She stared. Obviously, she must have misheard. Automatic acceptance? As in no grades, no SATs, no essays? Just "yes, you're in"? She looked from face to face, ending on Grandpa's. He looked as if he was about to burst into a song and dance routine, which was wholly uncharacteristic of him. "Grandpa? Is this a joke?" She'd heard rumors that legacies were sometimes favored, but she'd never imagined a formal process.
"Surprise!" Grandpa said.
Surprise? Surprise?! That was all he had to say? "Why didn't you tell me?" She could have prepared! She could have studied! She could have at least worked herself up into a fine state of nervous nausea!
"He was not permitted," Mr. Mayfair said.
Yeah, right. Since when did Grandpa need permission from anyone for anything? He ran his own business. He ran their family. If he tried, Lily thought, he could run the world. He was the strongest, smartest man that Lily had ever met... but maybe she'd only seen Grandpa next to ordinary people. Maybe next to giants, he wasn't so tall. That was a disturbing thought. She felt as if she were betraying Grandpa to even think it.
Lily realized that everyone was staring at her again as if waiting for her to say something, but she had no idea what she was supposed to say. "What's the test?" she asked at last.
She heard a whoosh as the Old Boys exhaled en masse. Several smiled, and a few even chuckled. Mr. Mayfair graced her with an avuncular smile, and she basked in his approval. "The test varies from candidate to candidate," Mr. Mayfair said. "For you, Lily... you must find the Ivy Key."
She flashed back to a treasure hunt at a classmate's fifth-grade birthday party. Back then, the prize had been gummy bears and a yo-yo.
The woman with the ivory-tipped cane said, "Find the Key, and your future will be assured. Your destiny, secure."
"You will still need to complete an application form, of course," the man with the book said. "Appearances, my dear. Must keep up appearances. But you will be guaranteed a yes response."
Her head spun. She wished she were sitting down.
The man with the book laughed at her expression. "All you have to do is pass."
"And if I don't pass?" Lily asked.
One of the perfect posture women said, "If you fail, you are free to apply with the rest of the applicants. This test is outside the purview of the admissions committee. But if you fail here, you should not expect an invitation to join Vineyard Club. Indeed, you would not be welcome."
Success meant her dream come true; failure meant exclusion from this (admittedly nice) clubhouse but still a shot at her dream come true. Yeah, she could totally live with that. No wonder Grandpa was smiling so widely he looked like he might burst. She felt the same expression spreading across her face. She was smiling so hard that her cheeks ached. She felt as if a hundred birthday presents, including the pony she'd wanted in third grade and the lime green Volkswagen she wanted now, had landed right in front of her. "What's the Ivy Key?" she asked. "What does it look like? What does it open? What do I do to find it? How do I start?"
At her flood of questions, Mr. Mayfair and several others smiled indulgently.
"That's the test, my dear," the man with the book said.
But... it could be anything! A locker room key, a dorm room key, a key to a top-secret safe in the university president's office where he kept world-domination plans... How would she even know if she'd found the right key?
"Do you accept our challenge?" Mr. Mayfair said. His eyes bored into hers. His expression was so intense that there was only one possible answer.
"Yes, of course, I accept!" she said.
All the Old Boys applauded.
Mr. Mayfair opened the library door, and music -- or sort of music -- poured in. Piano notes fell over each other like a rushing waterfall. The cascade of chords matched how Lily was feeling exactly. She pictured herself years later with gray streaks in her hair and an alum's black-and-orange jacket, remembering this day and saying, Here, right here, this moment, this is when my life changed.
Better not screw up.
As Mom hit another discordant jumble of notes, Mr. Mayfair's smile slipped. He leveled a look at Grandpa that Lily would have labeled as "meaningful" if she could have identified what it meant. "Are you certain?" he asked Grandpa again. "Once she knows--"
"I am," Grandpa said firmly.
"Very well then. It begins now," Mr. Mayfair said. "Good luck, Lily Carter." He shut the door, leaving Lily, Grandpa, and Mom alone.
As soon as the door closed, Mom sprang off the piano bench. "She's starting?"
Grandpa beamed. "She accepted the test!"
"Oh, sweetie, yay!" Mom skipped across the room and enveloped Lily in a hug.
Lily felt her jaw drop. "You knew about this?" Mom had kept a secret? Lily was torn between annoyed and impressed. How long had Mom known about the Legacy Test? Days? Weeks? Years? "Did you take the test when you were my age?"
As soon as the question was out of her mouth, Lily wished she could suck it back in. She knew better than to ask Mom to remember anything.
Mom's shoulders slumped, and her face collapsed. "I... I don't know."
"Never mind," Lily said quickly. But the damage was already done.
Shooting Lily a look that made her feel as if she'd poisoned a baby, Grandpa patted Mom's hand as he guided her toward the door. "We'll be checked in at the 50th Reunion tent," he said to Lily. "Ask for our room number at the registration desk when you need to sleep."
She trailed after them. "Wait, can't I come with you? I don't know where to start!" Stepping out the front door of Vineyard Club, she blinked into the midday sun. As her eyes adjusted, she noticed that the tiger-haired college boy leaned against the brick wall in front of the club. His hands were shoved deep in his jeans pockets, and he stared up at the cloudless blue sky.
Grandpa shook his head. "You're going to pass with flying colors, and I don't want anyone to doubt that you did it on your own." He sounded fierce.
Lily wondered how many favors Grandpa had had to call in to arrange this. Mr. Mayfair had said only a select few were chosen, and she knew she wasn't anything special. "I won't let you down, Grandpa."
He softened. "That's my tigerlily. Remember that I believe in you, however the test ends and whatever mysteries you unlock along the way."
The striped-haired boy was regarding them with mild interest, but Lily told herself to ignore him. This was more important than any college boy. "Can you at least tell me what the rules are?" she asked. "Is there a time limit?"
"You have until the end of Reunions," he said. "Sunday, we go home."
Before she could ask any more questions, he turned and strode down the walk. Mom blew her a kiss and scurried after him. Feeling like a toddler left at preschool for the first time, Lily watched them head out the gate and onto the sidewalk.
The tiger-haired boy watched them too.
The street that Mom and Grandpa were walking down (Prospect Avenue, according to the street signs) was lined with other mansions in both directions -- more eating clubs, she guessed. She saw an oversized cottage, a Gone-with-the-Wind-like house with white pillars and a broad porch, and a squat brick monstrosity with an orange-and-black cannon on its front lawn. All were past their peak glory. Paint chipped off the grand entrances, and plywood covered several windows. One had a couch on its roof. She couldn't imagine how or why anyone would put a couch on a roof.
I'm so not ready for this, she thought.
As she watched Mom and Grandpa pass the club with the cannon on the lawn, Lily wanted to chase after them. But Grandpa's words rooted her where she stood. She couldn't let him down, and if she ran after him in full view of Vineyard Club... She pictured the Old Boys peering out the windows, clucking their tongues in disapproval. The heavy-set woman with the ivory-tipped cane most likely already had a notebook full of Lily's inadequacies: drops her "r"s at the end of words, wears uneven socks, doesn't curtsey at greetings, isn't clever enough or pretty enough or perky enough... Stop it, she ordered herself. She could do this. Grandpa believed in her. She was just freaked out because she hadn't pictured herself alone on a college campus so soon.
But she wasn't alone. There was the tiger-haired boy.
She grinned at herself. Yeah, right, like she could walk up to a real-life college boy and ask him about the Ivy Key. He still leaned against the brick wall, as coolly casual as a modern James Dean. She couldn't talk to him. She wasn't in the same league as guys like that. She was barely from the same universe. It was enough that she'd have to walk past him.
And she would have to walk past him. Soon. If she kept dithering here on the steps of Vineyard, the Old Boys would pronounce her the worst candidate they'd ever seen and blackball her admissions application to every college except those online schools that advertised in movie theaters. Lily ordered her feet to walk. She was hyper-aware when she passed the college boy, but she willed herself not to look at him. If she looked, she'd stare.
On the sidewalk, she halted. Right or left? she wondered. She selected right. She didn't want Grandpa to think she was following them.
"Other way," tiger-boy said behind her. His voice was soft, sort of velvety.
"Me?" she asked, pivoting to face him. Up close, his hair looked amazingly natural. It was soft orange and black, muted like the fur of a tiger-striped cat. Stray bits fell over his eyes. She imagined brushing them away from his face. She looked down and studied her sneakers instead.
"Main campus is left," he said. "Just ordinary houses to the right. Very boring. Unless you're invited to a barbecue."
"Barbecues are good," she said. Oh, God, what was she saying? Why was she talking about barbecues? "Unless you're a vegetarian, of course."
"Of course," he agreed amiably.
She felt herself blushing. The first college boy who'd ever talked to her must think she was an idiot. She told herself it didn't matter what he thought of her, even if he was extremely cool-looking and had a dreamy voice and was a student at her dream school... "I'll go left," she said.
"Good choice," he said. A small smile played on his lips. "You should take a tour."
Her blush spread down her neck. She felt as if the words "high school student" were stamped on her forehead. "I'll be fine," she said. "Uh, thanks."
"Look for someone walking backward, and that will be the Orange Key Tour."
She opened her mouth to say no, thanks, she didn't have time for a tour right now, but then the name of the tour sunk in: Orange Key Tour.
He winked at her and then ambled off across the street.
She stared after him for a moment and then shook herself. Clearly, he -- whoever he was -- had given her a clue.
Filled with purpose, Lily headed left, down the street toward campus. She was swept up in a steady stream of alumni that flowed into and out of the clubs. As Grandpa had promised, she saw worse outfits than his blazer: orange jean jackets, black and orange trench coats, orange satin smoking jackets. She crossed the street within a flock of alums dressed in crossing-guard orange Hawaiian shirts.
Slowing with the crowd, she began to wonder if she was wrong. The tour name could have been a coincidence not a clue. She could end up wandering around all weekend until her nerves snapped and she resorted to stealing car keys from drunken alums and toting them in a Santa Claus sack to Vineyard on Sunday... She climbed a set of steps that led to a brick archway. Above her, the arch was decorated with stone gargoyles. Little carvings of monkeys curled into rosettes. One side of the arch had a fresco carved into the shape of a tiger's head. Four stone monkeys crawled over the tiger's face.
One of the monkeys turned its stone head and looked at her.
Lily lost her footing on the stone steps. She caught herself on the railing, and an alum steadied her elbow. "Are you all right?" he asked.
"Fine, thanks," she said automatically.
The alum continued on.
She was most definitely not fine. Clutching the railing, Lily stared at the monkey gargoyle. It didn't move.
Of course it didn't move, she told herself. It's stone. She must have imagined it.
Lily climbed the remaining steps and leaned against a wall inside the archway, out of sight of the gargoyles. A plaque on the wall labeled the building as 1879 Hall.
Please, don't let me have a brain hiccup.
She was genetically predisposed to them. She took a half-dose of the same medication as Mom to prevent their onset. Until now, it had worked. But until now, she'd never had such an important weekend. Her raised stress levels... No, she thought. She wasn't going to let Mom's illness beat her. Not here and not now. Lily reached into her pocket and pulled out Mom's medicine vial. She uncorked it and chugged the syrupy silver liquid. It tickled her throat as she swallowed.
Now she was safe from hallucinations and memory lapses and any behavior that would make a college admissions officer look at her as if she were less welcome than dog poo on an Oriental rug. She'd taken double her usual dose. Or was it triple? Grandpa was always so careful with the dosage, and Mom's doses were twice the strength of hers...
Oh, crap, she thought.
Lily flipped open her cell phone and then stopped. Grandpa would not be happy if he found out she'd panicked five minutes into her test. She should wait and see if any abnormal symptoms developed before she called him.
Pacing back and forth, she waited for signs of a seizure, heart attack, or frothing at the mouth. But aside from a ringing in her ears (which she decided was a distant radio), she felt fine.
She needed to calm down. Yes, this was an incredible, once-in-a-lifetime, unexpected opportunity -- and calling it that was not helping. Lily took a deep breath. She needed to treat this as if it were an outing with Mom. She had to remain calm, stay in control, and try not to do anything stupid.
Like overdose on anti-psychosis medication.
Stop it, she told herself. Done was done, and now she had to continue on. Her best bet for where to find an Orange Key Tour was the center of campus. Tucking both the empty medicine vial and her cell phone back into her pocket, she strode out of the arch without looking at the gargoyles.
Almost immediately, the ringing in her ears worsened. It sounded like dissonant notes, blurring into a steady hum. It peaked as she reached a campus road hedged with rhododendron bushes and evergreens. She guessed she was hearing overlapping music from the various Reunion tents beyond the shrubbery. Grandpa had said that each Reunions class had a fenced-off area with its own swing band, country band, disco band, or DJ... That was a much more likely explanation than that the hum was a side effect of too much medication. She pushed aside worries about overdoses and brain hiccups and instead focused on her first view of the heart of campus.
Ahead was a plaza with a soaring cathedral. To her right were gothic classrooms draped in wisteria. To her left was an ivy-edged walk lined with lampposts. Following a campus road, she passed the cathedral plaza and headed for a wide green lawn flanked by twin white marble temple-like buildings. This was the Princeton University that she'd been dying to see. Gothic turrets. Gleaming marble buildings. Massive oak and elm and sycamore trees. Lawns so green that the grass looked as if it had been combed and cut by a master barber rather than a lawn mower. And flocks of tourists trailing like ducklings after a woman who was walking backward.
Take that, Old Boys! she thought.
Picking up her pace, Lily trotted across the green lawn toward the Orange Key Tour. She attached herself to the rear of the tour as prospective students, their families, and tourists circled an ivy-clad building. She heard the tour guide call it Nassau Hall, the oldest building at Princeton. Looking up at the yellow stone building with the white bell tower, Lily missed her grandfather. She was supposed to see the campus with him. She'd missed out on that moment.
But if she found the Key before Saturday afternoon, she could still march with Grandpa in P-rade, the annual alumni parade through campus that Grandpa always talked about. She shouldn't feel bad; she hadn't missed all the warm, fuzzy bonding moments. And if she won acceptance to Princeton, that would of course be the ultimate moment.
The tourists clustered in front of Nassau Hall. Green copper tigers flanked steps that led to tall blue doors. Lily inched closer to hear the guide, a pony-tail-wearing student in a Princeton field hockey shirt, say, "After Commencement, all the new graduates walk out FitzRandolph Gate."
As the guide pointed behind them, the tour (Lily included) rotated en masse to gawk across the oak-speckled yard at the formal entrance to Princeton. Permanently open, the wrought-iron gate marked the line between campus and the banks, coffee shops, and Rolex stores of the town of Princeton. It was crowned with the Princeton seal and framed by stone pillars, each with a stone eagle on top.
Leaning against one of the pillars was the tiger-haired boy.
Eyes widening, Lily stared at him. Maybe it wasn't the same boy. Maybe orange-and-black hair was a popular fashion statement on Reunions weekend.
The tour guide continued to talk, "Legend has it that if you walk out that gate before graduation day, you won't graduate. Ask any student, and he'll say that's just a myth. But ask that same student to walk out that gate, and he'll say no way. We all walk out the side gates." She pointed to twin gates that flanked the main gate. Made of the same spirals of black iron, they were crowned with lamppost-style lights instead of the Princeton seal. Lily barely glanced at them. Instead she watched the tiger-haired boy walk toward her between the oaks.
He was definitely the same boy. Had he followed her? Why on earth would he?
"I don't even like to come in the FitzRandolph Gate," the tour guide said. "What if I tripped and fell backwards? So not worth the risk." Several tourists chuckled.
As he came closer, Lily could see his eyes. She hadn't looked at his eyes before. She'd been too busy looking at his hair, her feet, and the sidewalk in the vain hope that he wouldn't notice how fiercely she'd been blushing. He had beautiful eyes. They were tawny, a brown so light that they were nearly golden. All Lily could do was stare at them.
"You found the tour," he said in his soft voice.
"Yes," she said, still staring. His eyes were the same color as a lion's eyes. She'd never seen eyes like his. They were flecked with gold and bronze specks.
"I'm Tye," he said.
"Lily," she said.
"Nice to meet you, Lily." He sounded as if he meant it. She liked the way he said her name, all drawn out. His voice was as warm and smooth as hot chocolate.
In as sunny a voice as she could manage, she asked, "So... are you stalking me?"
"Pretty much," Tye said cheerfully. He flashed her a quintessential bad-boy smile. It made his eyes look like warm honey. She felt herself blushing for the second time. "I'm here to be your guard," he said. Before she could process that rather stunning statement, he added, "Tour's on the move."
"Oh!" she said. She turned to see the flock of tourists disappear through a brownstone arch. She hesitated. If she chased after the tour, would he leave? "I should... You're my guard?"
"You're taking the Test, right?" he asked. For the first time, he looked unsure of himself. He looked even cuter when he was confused than he looked when he smiled, if that was possible.
"You mean the Old--" She stopped herself before she said "Old Boys." They might be the Old Boys Network, but she bet they wouldn't appreciate being called that. "Yes, that's me. I mean, I'm taking it." God, could she sound any more like an idiot? Just because he had nice eyes didn't mean she had to lose all grip on the English language. "I should catch that tour."
"Good idea," he said, and he walked with her to the arch, through an ivy-choked courtyard, and out under a second arch. Distracted by the fact that he was accompanying her, she nearly plowed into the back of a middle-aged woman who was pointing a camera at an array of gothic buildings across the plaza. She skidded to a stop mere inches away.
"Ahead and to your left is Firestone Library," the tour guide was saying to the flock, "and ahead and to your right is the University Chapel. We just passed through the courtyard of East Pyne, the foreign language department. If I could draw your attention to the top of the East Pyne arch..." She pointed, and everyone rotated to view the arch.
At the top of the brownstone archway was a gargoyle shaped like a blindfolded woman's face. Stunted arms jutted out under her chin to hold open a stone book. Every tourist aimed a camera up at the gargoyle.
"So... I'm on the right track to find the Key?" Lily asked Tye. She leaned closer to him so that the tourists wouldn't overhear. This close, she breathed in his scent. He smelled like a rainforest, or like the flower shop after Mom had misted all the plants. In his jeans and black T-shirt, he hadn't seemed like the scented-aftershave type of guy.
He flashed his lopsided smile. "Depends on what you want to open."
Enigmatic much? "Thank you, Cheshire Cat." Maybe he didn't understand that her whole future rested on this.
His smile vanished, and he self-consciously ran his hand through his tiger-striped hair. "What do you mean by that?"
Who dyed their hair crazy colors and then acted shy about it? Mom never flinched at the odd looks she got. Of course, that was Mom, queen of getting odd looks. "That wasn't a hair comment," Lily said. "I like your hair."
His grin returned. "Thanks."
She wondered if he thought she was flirting.
The tour guide continued, "Some of the campus gargoyles, like the Literate Ape on Dillon Gym, are humorous. Some are more classically inspired, like the Chained Dragon which we'll see in just a moment on the University Chapel. Others represent the university experience, like this perennial favorite here, the Unseeing Reader, who symbolizes opening the eyes of students."
Keeping her voice low, Lily asked Tye, "Why do I need a guard?" She was on a campus tour at a suburban school, not wandering alone in the inner city. "Are you supposed to protect me against vicious squirrels and roving gangs of prefrosh?"
"Something like that," he said.
The tour guide was talking about a bulldog (Yale's mascot) carved into a drainpipe on the chapel, supposedly a joke from the architect, a Yale graduate. "Everywhere you look on the Princeton campus, you'll find treasures like these," the guide said. "Some call our gargoyles the ‘true professors of Princeton.'"
Lily winced. Okay, that was cheesy. She hung back as the tour proceeded on to the chapel. "Am I really supposed to be on this tour?" she whispered to Tye. "She seems as likely to say something useful as a gargoyle." Lily nodded up at the Unseeing Reader.
"I wouldn't be so sure of that." His golden eyes twinkled at her. "You never know what a gargoyle might say." He waved up at the gargoyle as if the Unseeing Reader was an old friend that he always greeted.
High up on the arch, the Unseeing Reader's stone fingers twitched.
Lily felt blood drain from her face. It had to have been a flicker of light, a cloud crossing the sun, even though the sky was blemish-free blue. "Did you see--" She stopped. She didn't want him to think she was a lunatic, or worse, to report back to the Old Boys that she had her mother's problems.
Tye was watching her with an unreadable expression.
"Never mind," she said. Clasping her shaking hands together behind her back, Lily willed herself to stay calm. She'd taken a triple dosage. She might have a seizure or a heart attack, but she could not have a brain hiccup.
The fingers twitched again.
"Oh, crap," she said.
She couldn't pretend she hadn't seen that. Out of the corner of her eye, she glanced at Tye again. He was still watching her, his tawny eyes intense.
Above, the gargoyle spread her fingers. A shard of stone slipped between them and plummeted toward the plaza. Without thinking, Lily stretched out her hands. The stone landed neatly on her palms. She stared at it. It didn't feel like a hallucination.
"What does it say?" Tye asked.
Her head shot up. "How do you know it says anything?" She didn't wait for him to answer. "The Old Boys... Vineyard Club... they rigged the gargoyle," she said flatly. She waved the stone shard in the air. "This is a clue. And you knew it was and let me think I was..." Instead of finishing the sentence, she swatted his arm. Her fingers brushed against his bare skin. She felt tiny static shocks dance on her fingertips.
His eyes widened, and he reached out as quick as a cat and caught her hand. He held it for a second, and she felt prickles run up and down her arm. "Who are you?" he demanded.
"Nobody," she said. "I'm Lily. Lily Carter."
He was staring at her with a gaze so piercing that she felt (yet another) blush rise up over her neck and face. A second later, he dropped her hand and blushed too. "Sorry," he said. He seemed at a loss for words. She flexed her fingers. Strange, she thought. Her hand felt tingly. "You, uh, you think the ‘Old Boys' are controlling the gargoyle?" he asked.
"Puppet or robot." She didn't care which, so long as it wasn't a hallucination. Lily studied the shard, a flat rectangle. Carved on one side were numbers and letters: 921.45 Wil. She showed it to Tye.
"Cryptic," he commented.
"It could be a date, except the punctuation isn't quite right," she said. "And what about ‘Wil'? What does that mean?"
"Abbreviation?" he suggested. "Acronym?"
"Research time," she said. She was a stone's throw from one of the premiere university libraries in the world. The prospect of winnowing through that much information was daunting, but the answer had to be in there somewhere. It couldn't be a coincidence that she'd received this clue so close to--
"It's a book catalog number," Lily said. Looking up at the Unseeing Reader, she asked, "I'm right, aren't I?"
The gargoyle didn't answer.
* * *
Love at first sight, Lily thought as she and Tye approached Firestone Library. First, it was beautiful, all gray stone and turrets. But second and even better, it was lopsided. It had a single off-center tower that looked as if someone had stolen half of Notre Dame Cathedral and then stuck it on top of the library without measuring first. She loved it. It was grand and quirky at the same time, and it was utterly different from her home library. Not that she didn't love that library too. Her home library was a drab hunk of concrete from the 70s, but it was also her first-choice refuge whenever Mom was acting too "artistic" to handle. Lily typically holed up in the nonfiction section. She liked to thumb through the books and imagine what she could do once her life was her own... if it were ever her own.
If Princeton said yes, she would have her own life. Since this was Grandpa's alma mater, she was allowed to apply here, even though coming here would mean leaving home. (Princeton was too far from Philly for an easy commute.) All of the other colleges on the Grandpa-approved list were in or just outside Philadelphia. If she went to one of them, she'd live at home and commute to class. Mom and the flower shop would continue to dominate her world, and nothing would change. Passing this test was the key to her future.
"So is the Key in there, or just a clue to the next clue?" Lily asked Tye.
"They really have you looking for the Key?" he asked.
She bristled. "You don't think I can find it?"
"It's not that," he said quickly. "It's... You're a surprise, you know. Going to be fun to figure you out."
For about the fifth millionth time since she'd met Tye, she felt herself blush. "Not much to figure out," she said. "There's nothing mysterious about me." Mom was the one who was full of riddles. Lily was as ordinary as peanut butter and jelly. Possibly peanut butter and bananas.
"Yeah, right." He cupped his hand around her cheek, and she felt her skin tingle again with that fuzzy electricity. She froze, scarcely breathing. She'd never had a boy cradle her face in his palm, even if he was regarding her more like an interesting scientific specimen than a subject of adoration. He released her. "I'll be back before you've found your next clue."
"You aren't coming with me?" she asked. Inwardly, she winced. She shouldn't beg him to stay with her. Just because he was the cutest guy who had ever talked to her... On the other hand, shouldn't he come with her? He had said he was her guard. "Don't you need to protect me from extra-fussy librarians or dangerously dust-ridden books?"
He flashed his lopsided smile. "Just watch out for rogue book carts."
She opened the library door. When she glanced back over her shoulder, he'd already walked away and was looking up at a gargoyle of a cloaked man with a flute. She only had a second to wonder what he was doing before a family of four approached. Rather than continue to block the door, she scooted inside.
On the inside, the library foyer was a warm honey-colored wood, the same color as Tye's eyes. Quit thinking about him, she told herself. If she passed the test, she'd have plenty of time to moon about college boys with nice eyes. She had a book to find.
Lily marched across the lobby only to stop at a set of turnstiles. Security guards were checking student ID cards. She considered her options: one, she could claim she was a student and try to bluff her way through (not a good idea -- she was a lousy actress), or... She couldn't tell the truth. The Legacy Test was supposed to be a secret.
As she tried to think of a plan, she half-listened to the family of four that toured the library lobby. The woman was reminiscing about hours spent here on her senior thesis. The father bounced a toddler in a tiger-cub outfit on his hip while the girl gazed up at her mom with wide brown eyes. They looked like a poster for the Perfect Family. Lily knew a few families like that at home. The mothers always chatted politely with Lily's mom, but they'd look at Lily with pity when they thought she wouldn't notice.
Not that Lily wanted Mom to change. Mom was Mom, and Lily loved her. It was just that Lily didn't want to be her. Lily watched the alum gesturing as she described the carrel where she'd written her thesis. Lily bet that no one had ever looked at that woman with pity. She wondered if Tye would look at her with pity once he knew about her mom.
Focus, Lily, she told herself.
She spotted a sign that said Visitors. One short conversation later (including liberal use of the words "prospective student"), and she was in possession of a temporary visitor's pass. She sailed by the guards, bypassed the reference room with its vaulted ceiling and gothic windows, and headed to the elevators that bore the label "Stacks." There was a handy-dandy guide beside the elevator door identifying which floor had which set of books. The 900s were on C-level, it said, three floors below ground level. Piece of cake, she thought.
As she rode the elevator down, she wondered how large this library was to have three levels underground. She pictured secret catacombs deep below the earth.
The doors slid open on C-level, and she saw her imagination wasn't far off. She stepped off the elevator to face darkened rows of bookshelves. Catacombs indeed.
Behind her, the elevator whirred as it rose, and then there was silence. No voices. No footsteps. No scratch of pencils, no click of laptop keys, no rustle of pages. Kind of creepy, she thought. She walked forward, and her shoes slapped loudly on the floor. It was so phenomenally quiet that she felt as if she should tip-toe. She wished Tye had come with her. She didn't like the feeling that she was the only person on the entire floor.
Only the center aisle was lit. Each aisle had its own light switch (either to conserve energy or to increase creepiness). Shadows shrouded the books. Lily hurried down the center aisle, reading the call letters on the labels: 870s, 880s, 890s, 900s, 910s, 930s. She halted and backtracked. The labels jumped from 919.98 Zoo to 930.0 Abr. Worse, the 915 shelf and the 930 shelf were flush against each other so that you couldn't walk down the aisle to check for the 920s. How did anyone... She spotted a crank on the end cap of the row.
Stepping back, she noticed that every other bookshelf was flush against its neighbor, and each had a crank to separate the shelves. It doubled the number of bookshelves that could fit on the floor. "Clever, Lily," she muttered to herself. "Way to impress the Old Boys." At least Tye wasn't here to see her flummoxed by sliding shelves.
As she turned the crank, the shelves groaned and lurched sideways. She imagined a horror movie where the villain squeezed his victims between moveable bookshelves. Attack of the Killer Librarian. Definitely a low budget movie.
The bookshelves creaked and then settled in their final position. Silence wrapped around her again. Lily shivered. She never thought she'd be freaked out by a library. On the other hand, she'd never been in a dimly lit, preternaturally silent library buried three floors below sunlight and fresh air. Walking quickly down the row, she scanned the shelves for the call letters. Like the label had said, the books jumped from 919 to 930. "Where--" she asked out loud.
Screech! The bookshelf shifted toward her.
"Hello? I'm in here!" she called. "Please stop turning the crank!" The shelf rattled closer. She darted down the row and burst into the center aisle. "Hey, I said--"
No one was there.
The crank continued to turn unaided until the bookshelves slammed together. She leaned forward to examine the crank. She didn't see a motor. So how--
Across the aisle, a second bookshelf shuddered then shifted. Lily backed away as the crank whirred faster. Jolting sideways, the bookshelf slammed against the next shelf. Books rocked, and then the library fell silent again.
Okay, she thought, this is seriously creepy. Maybe she should return to the nice, sunny lobby and ask the librarians at the information desk where to find the 920s. She liked that idea. Lily headed for the elevator.
Metal shrieked, and a bookshelf shot across the center aisle to block her path. Several books tumbled off the shelf and landed at her feet. Her heart hammered in her rib cage. "This isn't funny," she called. "You can stop now!"
She didn't hear anyone. Maybe it was a malfunction. Or it could be part of some automatic air-out-the-books maintenance routine, the library's version of an automatic sprinkler system. Not that she'd ever heard of such a thing, but there had to be a nice, logical explanation for why the shelves were suddenly acting possessed.
Lily speed-walked down a row. As she reached the end, the bookshelf sprang back and slammed against the brick wall. She ran back to the center aisle. All around her, dozens of bookshelves lurched forward and sideways. Metal crashed and shrieked. Books tumbled to the floor. She screamed as a set of shelves crashed together in front of her.
"Help!" she yelled. "Someone, anyone, help!"
She zigzagged through a moving maze. As shelves slid, she plunged through gaps. Aisles and rows slammed shut behind her.
Up ahead, Lily saw an old card catalog cabinet. Hip-height, it was an island in a storm. Lily raced toward it, ducking her head as books sailed off the flying shelves. The bookshelves zoomed around her faster and faster. Reaching the cabinet, she scrambled on top. A shelf smashed into the brick wall on one side of her, and then a second shelf crashed into the wall on the opposite side. A third shelf sailed directly toward her from the remaining direction. Lily screamed and threw her hands in front of her face--
The shelf halted inches from her fingertips.
Everything fell silent again. All the bookshelves were still. Crouched on top of the cabinet, Lily listened, but all she heard was her own breathing, fast and loud.
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