Some characters seem to come to life and leap off the page. Atticus Albright really did.
CHAPTER ONE: The Last Normal Day
The day before Atticus Albright came to life, the two girls that created him were arguing over what to do with him. The entire walk home from school that afternoon, Holly Lau and her classmate Emma Blackburn had been going back and forth over whether or not they should rewrite some of his personality. Holly deemed it a necessary change for the better, while Emma was almost entirely against it. It wasn’t that Holly and Emma argued often - they were, after all, best friends, and rarely fought beyond the occasional squabble. But the two were also writers, and they took their craft very seriously. Holly, according to Emma, took their craft too seriously.
“I just think he needs to be less… I don’t know, perfect and amazingly good at absolutely everything?” Holly said, kicking at some of the slush that covered the ground. It was early January, and they’d just gone back to school after winter break. What little snow they’d gotten hadn’t completely melted yet, but it hadn’t been cold enough to snow again since a couple weeks before Christmas, either, leaving them with December’s leftovers for snow. “Besides, who would name their kid Atticus, anyway?”
“Hey, you said we could keep the name. Besides, we already explained - his parents named him after Atticus Finch.”
“Writing is supposed to be fun!” Emma insisted. “I mean, it’s not like anyone’s ever gonna see what we’re doing besides us.”
Holly gave her a look, so she amended what she’d just said.
“Well, hopefully they will someday,” she said. “But it’s not like we’re trying to get any of our Atticus stories published. I mean, if we were trying to publish anything, a Lord Pembleton story would probably be it. I’m really pleased with those, I actually wouldn’t mind if someone else read them…”
“My mother thinks those are too morbid.”
“Your mother thinks everything’s too morbid.”
Holly shrugged, but didn’t dispute it. Her mother had always had very particular ideas of what she felt a twelve year old girl such as Holly should’ve been doing. Mostly, she’d expressed her concerns that Holly having a grand total of one friend, Emma, wasn’t good for her. But Holly was, for the most part, okay with only having Emma for a friend. Emma had been there when other girls at schools teased her, she liked the same movies and books, and she lived only two doors down. Really, what else could you need in a friend?
“I just think,” Holly said, “that maybe we should work on making Atticus a more well-rounded character. You know, give him a backstory, some actual flaws…”
“I guess,” Emma sighed. “I dunno, I just don’t think he’d be nearly as fun that way.”
“He can still go on adventures or whatever.”
“Yeah, that’s true. Speaking of which, I had an idea for the next Atticus story.”
Emma definitely had her attention, then. Part of the reason they’d become friends in the first place was because they both loved to write. Holly had been making up stories since before she could even hold a pencil, and Emma had always loved making up new characters and settings. These two skill sets worked together very well, and they often passed the time by scribbling down their newest stories in one of the many, many notebooks they shared. They’d created many, many characters together, from Rosemary Higgins (a young girl that solved mysteries with the help of her magical eyeglasses) to Lord Horatio Pembleton (a horrendously evil but charming and upbeat aristocrat), but their latest addition to the notebooks was Atticus Albright. Atticus, according to Emma’s first character outline she’d presented to Holly a few days earlier, was “the sort of friend everyone needed, the kind that would always be there at just the right moment.” Despite her criticisms, Holly was rather attached to Atticus. He was just difficult not to like, which was probably why he had so many friends whenever she and Emma wrote about him.
Holly and Emma were not girls with many friends. They never had been. Holly was what the school guidance counselor called “standoffish” and “grumpy,” and Emma was just plain unpopular. Maybe it had to do with the fact that she was more than a little pudgy when compared to the other girls at school, or maybe it was because she and her mother couldn’t afford much, especially not with Emma’s two younger siblings. Emma was never entirely sure why she got picked on so much, but she refused to let it get her down. Sometimes Emma wondered how she and Holly had even become friends in the first place. It had occurred to her that maybe Holly only stuck around because there was no one else for her to hang out with, but she didn’t like to dwell on that possibility.
The truth of it was that Holly and Emma were both similar in ways that was hard to find in a small town like Cyprus, Ohio, where both of the girls had grown up. They were similar in ways that went beyond liking to write stories or being able to watch “Pride and Prejudice” ten thousand times without getting tired of it. Neither Holly nor Emma, for instance, had a father. They both preferred worlds they’d created to the real one. And before they’d become friends back in the fourth grade, they’d both spent almost all of their time completely alone. Now, at least, they could be alone together.
“What’s the idea?” Holly asked, having to jog a bit to keep up with Emma, who was quite a bit taller than her.
“I’ll tell you once we get home — but can we make a quick detour?” she asked, reaching into her bag for the tired and true notebook they’d been using for the past few months. Emma ruffled the pages, saying, “This notebook’s nearly full, we need to get a new one.”
“Okay, let’s go to Pygmalion’s.”
“Do you need to call your mom to let her know?”
“Nah.” Ms. Lau, Holly’s mother, was a junior partner at a law firm uptown. She was slowly working her way up the ranks at her new job, but since it was a relatively new job, she often had to work long hours to get everything done and stay on her new boss’ good side. Holly knew she’d still be at work at this point, and probably would be until after dinnertime. “I’m supposed to go over to Harry’s when he gets home from work, though.”
“That won’t be ‘til six, though, right?”
Harry Rothschild worked with Holly’s mother at the law firm. He was a lawyer, too, but had been there for far longer than Ms. Lau, and was notoriously good at his job, and was able to get home basically whenever he wanted. He and Ms. Lau were good friends — or, at least, as close as Harry could get to being “good friends” with anybody. Holly and Emma didn’t dislike Harry, but they had to admit, he only seemed to have one facial expression, and that facial expression was best described as contempt for the town, whoever he happened to be speaking to at that moment, and mankind as a whole. Still, he was gracious enough to agree to let Holly come over to his house after he got home from work, since Ms. Lau didn’t want her home by herself after dark, and often fixed her dinner, so he wasn’t all bad.
So it was decided. Holly and Emma turned off their normal path home, and began to short walk to Pygmalion’s Bookshop.
Pygmalion’s was a small, dark, dusty bookshop, squeezed in between a bakery and a dress shop. Both the bakery and the dress shop were thriving businesses. Pygmalion’s was not. In all the time they’d spent in there, Holly and Emma had only seen any other customers a handful of times. To tell the truth, Holly could see why. There wasn’t a huge selection of books, and the owner, Mr. Cartwright, wasn’t much of a talker. The floors were uneven and there was always an odd smell coming from the vents that no one was able to identify. But Holly and Emma liked it there, and were the shop’s most loyal customers. It was, after all, the only place in town where you could get three used paperbacks for five dollars, or a brand new notebook for six or seven, and neither of them got huge allowances.
When they arrived at the shop, they were greeted with a sign in the door.
BOOKS, NOW ONLY 50 CENTS - GOING OUT OF BUSINESS SALE - EVERYTHING MUST GO!
“Oh, no!” Emma cried. “Where are we supposed to get our notebooks now?”
“I don’t know,” Holly said, pulling the door open. A bell went off somewhere in the shop, but Mr. Cartwright didn’t appear. This wasn’t too surprising. “Honestly, I’m kinda surprised he managed to keep the place open as long as he did.”
“Holly!” Emma said, shocked at her friend’s blunt statement. “You love this place!”
“I do, but you have to admit, it doesn’t exactly scream ‘consumer-friendly,’” she said, pointedly glancing at a cobweb covered corner, messy, unorganized piles of old books, and the cash register, which was unattended.
Emma deflated slightly. “Well… yeah.”
The girls moved to the back of the shop, where Mr. Cartwright kept a small bin full of new notebooks. Holly and Emma crouched next to it, and began digging. Mr. Cartwright didn’t get new products in very often, so most of the notebooks had been ones Holly and Emma had considered before, but rejected for whatever reason. They sifted through the less-than-satisfactory selection of journals and diaries, debating the merits of certain choices, when Emma found a small, leather-bound book with cream colored pages and a string to tie it closed.
“…Did we look at this one before?” she asked, holding it up.
Holly shook her head. “No, or we would’ve bought it.” She took the book from Emma, flipping through the pages. There wasn’t a single mark on any of them, and it almost looked brand new. “This is really, really nice. I don’t think I’ve seen it anyplace else, though.”
“Let’s get it,” Emma said. “If we wait, someone else might buy it.”
They went to the cash register, and weren’t too surprised to see that Mr. Cartwright hadn’t appeared yet. Emma rang the bell he kept on the counter, but he still didn’t come out.
“Mr. Cartwright?” Holly called, standing on her toes to try and see into the back room behind the counter.
There was no response. As much as Holly loved the shop, she had to admit, she wasn’t a fan of Mr. Cartwright’s disappearing act. This wasn’t the first time this had happened, and they’d left without buying anything before because of it.
Finally, just as Emma was suggesting they leave the money on the counter and just take the notebook and leave, he appeared. He was an old man, with eyes like glass, and moved very slowly. Emma could count the number of times she’d actually heard him talk on one hand, and had never once seen him smile. As much as she disliked the idea of Pygmalion’s closing, she had to admit that Mr. Cartwright probably wasn’t helping.
Wordlessly, he took the notebook from Holly, ringing it up and holding out his palm for the money. Emma pressed five dollars into his claw like hand, retracting her own hand as quickly as possible. He handed them the book back, still not saying a word. Emma really wished he would, or least blink just once.
“Thank you,” Emma said softly, putting the new notebook into her bag. Mr. Cartwright didn’t respond, nor did she really expect him to.
Holly and Emma turned to go, heading for the front door. Mr. Cartwright didn’t say a word.
As they stepped back outside, blinking in the winter sunlight, Emma said, “Okay, I guess I can see why he doesn’t get much business.”
Emma’s mother, Beth Blackburn, was a nice woman, but very stressed. She was able to work from home while her youngest child, Veronica, was still a toddler, so she often set up her “office” in the living room. Holly and Emma were careful to be quiet as they slipped past her, seeing she was on the phone, looking vaguely like she was about to cry.
“I’ve seen that look,” Emma muttered to Holly as they headed upstairs. “Her boss probably wants her to redo something. We should probably just stay out of her way.”
Holly nodded in agreement, more than glad to oblige. She’d seen her own mother on-edge because of work recently, and she knew better than to get caught in that sort of crossfire.
Emma’s room was in the attic of the small house, mainly because it was the biggest available space for her to claim. It was a sparse place, with only her bed, a small bookshelf, a desk that was covered in old notebooks and school folders, and a wardrobe that she kept promising to organize but never actually did. As she and Holly reached the top of the stairs, she went to pull back the curtain that covered her small window, letting a bit of sunlight flood into the room.
“What’s the idea?” Holly asked, tossing her bag onto the floor and flopping back onto Emma’s bed, staring at the cobweb-covered ceiling.
“They say ‘write what you know,’ right?” Emma said, sitting down next to Holly, crossing her legs.
“And what do we know better than here?” she asked, spreading out her arms.
Emma rolled her eyes. “No, Holly. I mean, the whole town. We know this town like the backs of our hands. And we’re always having trouble coming up with cool new settings, so… why not just set all of the Atticus stories here?”
Holly considered this. “I dunno. Isn’t it more creative to make up a location?”
“Authors set books based in their hometowns all the time!” she insisted. “Or, you know, set it in a town just like their hometown, but with the name changed.”
“I guess that’s true…”
“And it’s as good a place to start as any.”
“That is definitely true,” Holly conceded. She and Emma had never been too great at beginnings. Or at endings. Really, the thing they were best at was handling the stuff in the middle.
“And I think I even know where Atticus could live,” Emma said, pointing out her bedroom window.
Across the street from where Emma and her family lived, there was a small blue house that had been sitting empty for many years. It was what its real estate agent referred to as a “fixer-upper,” which meant the roof had many holes in it, the floors were terribly uneven, and there was a moldy smell that no one was quite able to get rid of. Though the house had once been very beautiful, before either Holly or Emma were born, no one had bought it, mainly because no one had the time or money to invest in fixing it.
Holly crinkled her nose. “You want Atticus to live there?”
“I think Atticus would want a home with a bit of character!” she said brightly. “Besides, he has the money to fix it, you know, repaint, fix the roof, maybe install a cute little garden out back…”
“…Make it livable and maybe less disgusting…”
It was true that Atticus, should he actually choose to live there, would have the means to make it nice again. One of the things Holly had actually been wanting to cut from his backstory was that he was fabulously rich. All their characters were fabulously rich - Emma’s doing, of course.
But, despite her doubts, she sighed and said, “Okay. We have to start somewhere.”
“Maybe he moves in and… you know, goes on an adventure or something.”
“Or something,” Holly repeated.
“You know what I mean.”
Delighted that she’d gotten her way, Emma christened the new notebook and wrote the words that would change everything.
Atticus Albright woke up at precisely midnight. He hadn’t meant to, but had suddenly realized in his sleep that he’d accidentally packed the clothes he’d planned to wear the next day. Moving day. Tutting at how silly he could be, Atticus got out of bed and sleepily dug through his suitcase, finding a pair of jeans, some underwear, and a red button-up shirt.
Atticus had grown up in the city he currently lived in, and was quite happy there. But still, he had chosen to make the move to Cyprus, Ohio. He’d bought a small “fixer-upper” (whatever that was) for a surprisingly good price, and was set to move in the next day. Although he would miss his hometown, he had decided it was time to move on. Atticus had chosen to move on mainly because it seemed like everyone else was. All his old friends had moved to cities and towns all around the country, and Atticus didn’t want to be the only one who was still hung up on his childhood home. So, he decided to leave, and start fresh, making new friends and going on new adventures. Cyprus seemed like the perfect place to start.
At the time, Holly and Emma couldn’t have possibly known what writing a simple introduction to Atticus’ story would do. They couldn’t have known that it would forever set their lives slightly off-kilter, that it would start a chain of events that would force them both to question everything about everything.
Indeed, even as Emma put the notebook away and Holly began arguing with her over whether or not Atticus would actually “tut,” they still didn’t have a clue. They didn’t realize what they’d done. That would come later. This was, after all, the last normal day. Their lives were still dull, ordinary.
Not for long.
At precisely midnight that night, long after Emma and Holly had both fallen asleep in their own respective beds, Atticus Albright woke up.
CHAPTER TWO: Atticus Albright
The next day was a Saturday, which meant that while many people braved the cold and the slush to see friends or go out and do something fun, Holly was asleep. Holly had never been a child that resisted nap time back in kindergarten; she adored sleep, and rarely got out of bed before ten on the weekends. Whenever she woke up, if her mother didn’t have to work, the two of them would usually do something together. Usually, however, Ms. Lau was at the office, putting in some overtime, leaving Holly free to hang out with Emma all day - or, as she so often did, go over to see what Harry was doing and annoy him.
The first sign that this was no ordinary Saturday was that Holly was actually out of bed by eight in the morning.
It was Emma’s fault. Emma, unlike her best friend, was an early riser, and had come downstairs to enjoy getting control over the TV for a change while her sisters were still asleep. She’d been lounging in the living room, only half paying attention to the show she’d put on, when a moving truck drove up, and parked right in front of the old blue house across the street from her. Emma got to her feet and peered out the front window as a cherry red car pulled in behind the moving truck.
Before she could even get a look at the driver, Emma had thrown on her coat, pulled on her boots, and shot out the front door, dashing two doors over to Holly’s house. She knocked rapidly, and was answered by Ms. Lau, who was getting ready to head to the office for the day, having a granola bar for breakfast and pulling on her own coat.
“Oh, hi, Emma — I think Holly’s still asleep, but if you come back in a bit, she’ll probably—”
“Can I see her now?” Emma asked, bouncing up and down on the soles of her feet. “It’s important!”
“You want to risk waking up Holly?” Ms. Lau thought about arguing with her, but then glanced at her watch and realized how close she was to being late, and thought otherwise. She stepped aside. “…Your funeral.”
“Thanks, Ms. Lau!” Emma said, already halfway up the stairs.
She bounded into Holly’s bedroom, where Holly remained curled up underneath the covers. The truth was, Holly had woken up when Emma had started up the stairs, but was hoping that she could go back to sleep. No such luck. Emma seized her shoulder and began shaking.
“Holly — Holly — Holly! Wake up!”
“Holly, c’mon, it’s important.”
Emma shook her a bit harder, saying, “Holly, we have a new neighbor! We have to go out and be the first to meet them!”
Holly groaned, sticking her head out from underneath her blanket. Her black hair was a mess, and she looked about ready to fall asleep again at any moment. “Why?” she asked, not sounding like she particularly wanted an answer.
“Because,” Emma said, as patiently as she could, “they haven’t met anyone else yet.”
Holly gave her a look that anyone would give their best friend who had woken them up at some ungodly hour for no other apparent reason but to state the obvious.
Emma tried again. “They haven’t talked to anyone else. That means they haven’t had a chance to hear about us.”
“Holly. They haven’t had the chance to hate us yet.”
“…Give me five minutes to get cleaned up and dressed.”
Holly kicked off the covers, dashing to the bathroom to brush her teeth. Emma smiled, pleased that Holly had finally seen things her way, and sat down on her bed, trying to think of a good way to start the conversation with the new neighbor, whoever they were. If she and Holly managed to make a good first impression, maybe the opinions of anyone else wouldn’t affect their perception of them. Maybe they’d be willing to give them a chance. It wasn’t that she didn’t love Holly, but it did get lonely with just the two of them.
Holly came back from the bathroom and began searching for something to wear, saying, “Is it just one person or a whole family? Any kids?”
Emma shrugged. “I’m not sure. I came dashing over here the second I saw the truck.”
“Good thinking. We can get in there early.” Holly found a knitted maroon sweater that was a bit too big for her and pulled it on over her t-shirt, wriggling into a pair of jeans. “It’d be really nice if they had a kid our age. Someone else to eat lunch with.”
“Yeah. Oh, and guess which house they’re moving into?”
“Atticus’ house!” Emma beamed. “The one across the street!”
Holly’s jaw hit the floor. “Are you serious? Someone actually bought that piece of crap?”
Holly shook her head. “Wow. They must have no idea what they’re getting into.”
“Yeah, but don’t say that to them, okay?” Emma said. “Come on, are you ready yet?”
“Hang on, hang on…” Holly fished a pair of (mismatched) socks out of her dresser and pulled them on. “Okay, let’s go.”
Stopping just long enough for Holly to pull on a coat, her boots and a hat, Emma and Holly ran out the front door, dashing through the slush and across the street towards the moving truck and the beautiful red car that had followed it. The people from the moving company had already begun unloading boxes and carrying them into the house. Bouncing with every step, Emma tried to get a look inside the truck, hoping to catch a glimpse of a child’s bike or maybe even a crib — anything to hint at a child’s presence in the new household. She didn’t see anything, but she decided to keep her hopes up.
“That doesn’t look like a family car,” Holly said doubtfully, looking it over. “There aren’t even any stickers on it, and it’s kinda small…”
“Your mom drives a smaller car, too,” Emma pointed out.
“True.” Holly stuck her hands in her pockets, wishing she’d stopped long enough to grab a pair of gloves. She glanced up, and saw a man from the moving company leaving the house, followed by a young man with golden blond hair and a red button-up shirt. She poked Emma and gestured towards him. “Hey, Emma — he must be moving in.”
“Oooh! Maybe he’s the dad?”
“He looks a bit young to be the dad.”
“Should we go say hi?” Emma asked.
“Well, maybe, but maybe we sh—aaaaand you’re already running over there…”
Holly hadn’t even managed to get her sentence out when Emma had dashed up the sidewalk to the porch to greet their new neighbor, face flushed almost as red as her hair from excitement and the cold.
“Hi!” she said. “You must be moving in!”
The young man was somewhat surprised to already be meeting people, but smiled anyway. “Yes, I am. Just got here, actually. What’s your name?”
“Emma Blackburn,” she said, grinning at him. “And this—” She seized Holly’s arm as she came up behind her. “—is my friend, Holly Lau. Holly and I live across the street.”
“Hey,” Holly said, managing a small smile. He did seem nice, at least so far. “Welcome to Cyprus.”
“Thanks,” the young man said. “It seems like a really sweet little town.”
“Did you bring any family with you?” Emma asked.
“No — just me.”
“Well, it’s really nice to meet you,” she said, trying to hide her disappointment. She held out her hand for a shake.
“Thanks, you, too,” he smiled. He shook Emma’s hand. “I’m Atticus, by the way.”
Emma and Holly both stared at him. Emma was so surprised, she didn’t let go of his hand until Holly shoved her in the arm, bringing her back to reality.
“Atticus,” she repeated, dropping his hand.
He laughed a bit. “I know, it’s sort of unusual. My parents were big fans of 'To Kill a Mockingbird.'”
Before she could stop herself, Holly asked, “What’s your last name?”
He didn’t seem to consider it an odd question. “Albright.”
Emma and Holly were both stunned into total silence, Emma’s mouth dropping open in shock. It couldn’t be. It had to be some sort of insane coincidence. So what if he looked exactly the way Emma had described him in her character outline? So what if he had the same name, the same car, even the same reason for his unusual name?
It couldn’t be.
Atticus simply stood there, a vague, amiable smile on his face, glancing around the neighborhood, not looking like he was thinking of anything in particular.
Finally, Holly forced herself to speak. “Where - where are you from?”
“Oh, I’m from…” Atticus trailed off, brow furrowing in thought. “I’m from… huh. Sorry, I’ve totally blanked on the name. It’s a small town in upstate New York.”
“Well, it’s, um… it’s great to have you here! I’d love to stick around, but Emma and I have to, uh…”
“We have a thing,” Emma interjected. “An important thing to get to.”
Atticus didn’t question this, and just said, “Okay, it was nice meeting you two.”
“Yeah, we’ll… we’ll see you around, okay?”
Without another word, too shocked to think of a polite way to excuse themselves, Emma and Holly turned and quickly hurried down the sidewalk, Emma whispering, over and over and over, “Oh my God, oh my God, oh my God, oh my God…”
“This is a crazy coincidence,” Holly said as they approached Emma’s house. “It has to be.”
“Oh my God, oh my God, oh my God…”
“There’s no other possible explanation. He’s not Atticus Albright. I mean - I mean, I know his name is Atticus Albright, but he can’t be our Atticus Albright.”
“Oh my God.”
They opened the front door to Emma’s house, hurrying inside, faces still flushed red from the cold, Holly saying, “Things like this don’t happen, okay! They don’t!”
Emma sunk to sit on her couch, glancing out the window. Atticus was now chatting with another neighbor, Gretchen Silverstein, looking quite cheerful and happy.
“Holly,” she said, “he is exactly as we described him.”
“I - I know,” Holly said, looking rather nervous. “But - but this is just coincidence. I mean, what other explanation could there be?”
Emma looked at her.
“No,” Holly said. “No.”
“Emma, you cannot sit there and tell me you’re actually entertaining the idea that some fictional character we made up just came to life one day.”
“I know this whole thing is crazy, but…”
“It’s completely crazy!”
“Holly, he’s perfect. Every word either of us ever wrote about Atticus—” She pointed out the window at him. “—it’s all in there. In his head, his personality, the way he looks and talks…”
Holly moved to stand in front of Emma, blocking her view of the window. She put her hands on Emma’s shoulder and leaned down to look her dead in the eye.
“Emma Elizabeth Blackburn, look me in the eye and tell me you know that that Atticus out there is not the one we made up.”
“I need to hear it from your mouth.”
Emma took a deep breath, but let it out again. Finally, she shrugged weakly, saying, “…I can’t.”
Holly groaned, shaking her a bit. “Em, listen to yourself! You’re not making sense! I - I mean, what, do you think he honestly just magically came to life?”
“I’m just saying it’s possible.”
“No, it’s not! There’s no such thing as magic!”
“Like you could possibly know that,” Emma said.
“Okay! Okay, Emma, if Atticus Albright walked off the page and into the real world, why couldn’t he remember the name of his own hometown, huh?”
Emma hesitated, thinking it over. “…Because we never named it.”
Holly stared at her. “What?”
“If he really is our Atticus - and don’t give me that look, I’m just saying it’s possible - then he’d only know what we wrote. All that exists of Atticus - his personality, his backstory, even the thoughts in his head… they’re only what we write. Nothing more, nothing less. And I didn’t give his hometown a name yet, did you?”
“…No,” she admitted, not without some reluctance. “But that doesn’t mean I believe it.”
Emma hopped to her feet and tore up the stairs to her room in the attic, waking up her sisters as she went. She threw open her bedroom door and grabbed the notebook they’d purchased the day before. Ignoring the complaints of one of her sisters as she passed their room again, she hurried back down to the living room, where Holly was waiting, looking confused.
“If I’m right,” Emma said, holding up the notebook, “then if I write something, Atticus should do it, right?”
Holly shrugged. “I don’t know. I guess?”
Emma reached for a pen that sat on the coffee table. “Let me try it.”
“Not if I’m right.”
Holly sighed, looking away. “I can’t stop you,” she conceded.
Emma made her way to the window, peering out at Atticus. He didn’t notice her watching him, and was carrying a box from the truck up the sidewalk to his house. Holly reluctantly followed her, alternating between watching Atticus and watching Emma.
Emma opened the notebook, and scribbled: Atticus dropped the box he was carrying. Fortunately, none of items in the box were broken.
By the time she looked up and at Atticus again, the box had tumbled from his arms, various trinkets spilling out onto the sidewalk. He bent down to pick up the fallen items, none of which were broken.
“That doesn’t prove anything,” Holly said, though she looked a bit nervous. “It could’ve just been a coincidence.”
“How many coincidences do you think could happen in one day?” Emma said, exasperated. “You don’t believe me? Fine.” She shoved the notebook and pen into her friend’s hands. “You try it.”
Holly tried to give the notebook back. “I’m not gonna try it,” she said.
“Why not? If you’re right, there’s nothing to worry about.”
Holly couldn’t exactly argue with that. She glanced out the window at Atticus again, who was still trying to find all the items he’d dropped.
“Fine,” she finally said. “Fine!”
Hand shaking a bit, she wrote: Atticus got the last of the fallen items, except for one, which remained on the ground. He didn’t notice this until he’d already taken ten steps away from it, and was almost to the porch. He then looked into the box and realized he’d left it behind, and turned around to retrieve it.
“Exciting prose,” Emma said dryly.
“Shut up. If he follows that to the letter, then…”
“Then you’ll believe me?”
“I don’t know.”
As the two sniped at each other, they both watched Atticus, not tearing their eyes away from him for a moment.
He followed what Holly had written, word-for-word.
Emma stared at Holly. Holly stared at Atticus, who didn’t seem to think there was anything odd about what he’d done at all.
“Oh my God,” Holly said.
“Now do you believe me?”
“Oh my God.”
“Oh my God!”
“Okay, I see what you mean,” Emma said. “This is weird. This is too weird. Do you need to sit down?”
“Emma, our—Atticus… our character is…” Holly trailed off, still staring at him. Finally, slowly, a smile crept across her face. “He’s… he’s real!”