Sarah Beth Durst

Excerpt from Enchanted Ivy

Chapter One

"Almost there," Grandpa said.

Pressing her nose against the car window, Lily frowned at the strip malls, gas stations, and industrial parks as they rolled by. "Really?" she said. She'd expected to see something a bit more picturesque than Walmarts and Home Depots en route to her dream school -- at least a stately forest or a field with a few photogenic cows. And she should hear trumpets playing, plus a massive choir announcing in verse the approach of her destiny.

Maybe she'd built up this moment a bit too much.

"Just a few more miles and then I will don my illustrious blazer," Grandpa said.

Grandpa's orange and black striped Princeton University Reunions jacket hung from the back of the driver's seat. Wondering why he'd mentioned it, she met Grandpa's eyes in the rearview mirror. He shifted his eyes toward Lily's mother, who sat slumped in the passenger seat in front of Lily. Oh, of course, she thought. If they were almost there, then it was time to cheer up Mom. "You know it looks like a psychedelic zebra's pelt, right?" Lily said.

"You'll see worse," Grandpa promised.

"I doubt the skinless zebra would agree with that," Lily said.

Grandpa nodded solemnly. "The Class of 1969 wears a vest and headband covered in orange and black yin-yang polka dots."

Lily faked a shudder. "Oh, the horror!"

In front of her, Mom laughed. Her wild, tangled hair (today, dyed a beautiful soft green) shook like willow leaves in the wind. It was the first time since leaving Philadelphia that Mom quit looking half-wilted and smiled. Mom hated car rides. She felt caged, she said, inside all the steel and plastic and glass. If it wasn't for worries about how it would react with her usual medication, Mom would have taken a Valium for the drive.

Normally, Mom avoided car rides altogether, but this wasn't a normal weekend. It was Princeton Reunions weekend. Reunions weekend! Lily couldn't believe Grandpa had offered to take them. He always attended, even in off years like his forty-ninth reunion. It was his "thing," his once-a-year break from mothering both Lily and Mom. But this year, he'd said that Lily should see her future alma mater.

Not that she'd even applied yet. She was a junior, three weeks away from final exams, but Grandpa claimed this place was her destiny. No pressure, though. Yeah, right.

Grandpa pointed to an intersection. "Next left," he said.

Lily's heart thumped faster. She shouldn't be this excited, she knew. It wasn't as if she even had an application interview. At best, she'd take a campus tour and then spend the weekend with a bunch of seventy-year-olds who were pretending to be fifty years younger. But she found herself craning her neck for her first glimpse.

As they turned onto Washington Road, the industrial parks, motels, and malls of central New Jersey fell behind them, and all Lily saw was green, green, and more green. Her breath caught in her throat. Now this was more like it! Elm trees lined the road to Princeton University. Their branches arched over the car in a grand canopy of translucent green that stretched for half a mile. Leaves swayed lightly in the wind, and Lily wanted to reach her arms up and catch the wind in her hands. Her fingers bumped the roof of the car. Self-consciously lowering her hands, she contented herself with staring out the window. Ahead, she saw a stone bridge over a lake and, beyond it, a sprawling boathouse. Crew boats lay criss-crossed on an asphalt shore. It looked like a photograph from a college brochure, and Lily felt light-headed as she drank in the view. It was perfect!

Across the bridge, Grandpa stopped at a traffic light. "We're here," he announced.

"Home," Mom said happily.

Lily closed her eyes as her perfect moment shattered.

"No, Rose," Grandpa said in a calm and patient voice. "This is Princeton University, not our home. We're here for my 50th Reunion. Do you remember?" Opening her eyes, Lily studied Mom and wondered if she'd remember or fake it.

Mom frowned for an instant and then said, "Of course. Yes, yes. I'm sorry." Her chiffon sleeve fluttered as she waved her hand at the window and said, "It's very pretty here."

"I have always thought so," Grandpa replied gravely. "Did you take your medicine today?"

Lily answered for her: "She did. But I have another here...." Unzipping Mom's purse, she drew out a single-dose medicine vial.

"I'm fine. Fine," Mom said, false cheer in her voice. "Just a little hiccup." Mom had nicknamed them that: brain hiccups. A harmless name, as if that would make everything okay. "You can put that away."

Lily's fingers curled around the medicine vial. Mom had been happy for... what? Five minutes? Three? Lily slid the vial into her pocket, easily accessible if Mom needed it, and then she forced herself to look out the window again.

Grandpa turned right at a library with a roof like metal wings and drove past an observatory and a concrete stadium flanked by metal tigers, Princeton's mascot. At a "private parking" sign, he turned left into a gravel lot and parked.

"Vineyard Club," Grandpa said. He pointed at a tree-choked hill.

Leaning forward, Lily saw hints of brick gables and peaked windows through the screen of trees, and her breath caught in her throat. Vineyard Club was the most exclusive and prestigious of all Princeton eating clubs. Grandpa had been a member.

Following her grandfather's lead, Lily stepped out of the car. She inhaled the smell of Princeton: the earthy scent of pine and the sweet perfume of tulip trees, undercut with the sour stench of stale beer. It smelled exactly like it should. She smiled.

"Oh, freedom!" Mom cried as she jumped out of the car. She spun in a circle with her arms stretched in a V over her head. Her sleeves flapped around her. "I hear the world singing!"

Grandpa chuckled. "No more cars until Sunday," he promised, coming around to the trunk. He lifted out their suitcase. Lily claimed the duffel bag. Without prompting, Mom fetched Grandpa's hideous jacket and her purse from the backseat. Lily and Grandpa both watched her.

Mom's smile slipped. "I'm fine. I won't ruin your weekend."

"This way," Grandpa said, pointing toward a path through the trees. "We're expected."

Grandpa hadn't said they were meeting anyone. Swinging the duffel bag over her shoulder, Lily hurried to follow Grandpa across the parking lot. "Expected by who?" Lily asked.

"By whom," Grandpa corrected. He flashed her an enormous grin. "I have a surprise for you."

Last surprise from Grandpa had involved escargot for dinner. (Lily had tried one; Mom had flat-out refused.) Surprise before last was a six-foot saguaro cactus that Grandpa had ordered for the shop. (Mom had loved it; Lily had found a desiccated scorpion impaled on a thorn.) For all his aura of being a respectable business owner, Grandpa tended to plan bizarre surprises. Now he had a twinkle in his eye as though he thought he was Santa Claus. "No snails this time," Lily said.

"No snails," Grandpa said. "Just a few people I'd like you to meet."

"Really?" She'd never met any of Grandpa's college friends.

The path through the trees opened onto a slope of perfectly manicured lawn, complete with a volleyball net and Adirondack lawn chairs. As Grandpa strode up the hill, Lily tried to picture him as a college student -- subtract the salt-and-pepper beard, darken the white hair to black, erase the tanned wrinkles... She wondered if he'd learned his I-own-the-world-not-just-a-flower-shop walk here. She imagined herself striding across the lawns as if she belonged.

Coming up behind her, Mom hooked her arm through Lily's. "I wonder what secret life your grandfather has been hiding from us. I'm thinking a dozen girlfriends."

Lily grinned. "At least a dozen." Her grandpa was a handsome man, after all. "First, we'll meet Buffy, Muffy, and Fluffy, triplet bottle-blonde octogenarians who live on a yacht. And then will come Margaret, the divorcée with the hard shell hiding a soft, vulnerable heart. And of course Penny, the rich widow who loves sequins and feather boas..." As they climbed the stone steps to Vineyard Club, Lily trailed off. Here was her first close-up look at Grandpa's infamous club.

Mom didn't notice that Lily's attention had shifted. "Don't forget Clarisse," she said, "the brainy brunette. And Martha, ex-third wife of his third-best friend..."

Gazing up at the ivy-covered brick, Lily breathed, "I think I'm in love."

It was a mansion. No other word for it. Vineyard Club was a Victorian-style mansion with peaks and gables of aged brick, all trimmed with ivy. All the windows had wrought-iron frames, and most were stained glass. She craned her neck to try to see the pictures in the stained glass, but all she could see from this angle were colors. Sapphire and ruby and emerald colored bits of glass flashed like jewels in the sunlight. "Can I move here now?" Lily asked. "Seriously, I want to live here."

Like a formal butler, Grandpa swung the door open and gestured inside. Lily peeked in and saw mahogany: walls, floor, tables, chairs, bar and bar stools, all beautiful dark wood. It was... ugh! She recoiled as the stench of stale beer rolled out and over her like a tsunami wave. "Before I move," she said, "we fumigate it."

Grandpa inhaled deeply. "Smells like senior year."

Was that the year his scent glands died? Retreating to gulp in fresh air, Lily turned back toward the brilliant green lawn sloping down behind them...

... and saw the boy.

He stood underneath a pine tree by the parking lot. He wore jeans and a black T-shirt, and he had orange and black tiger-striped hair. Clearly, judging by his school-spirit hair, he was a Princeton boy -- the first one she'd ever seen. She felt like a bird-watcher who had glimpsed an elusive and rare specimen.

Oddly, he seemed to be staring back at her.

She was sure it was her imagination. He had to be admiring the architecture. Or waiting for a girlfriend. Guys like that had girlfriends. They didn't notice rumpled-from-a-long-drive high school juniors who were hanging out with their relatives. Lily opened her mouth to ask Mom if she thought the boy was looking at her, but then she stopped. Mom might like the hair. Lily didn't want to waste Reunions weekend on a search for orange and black hair dye.

Lily followed Mom and Grandpa inside and instantly forgot about the tiger-haired boy. She was inside Vineyard Club! She stared around her, feeling as if she needed to memorize every detail.

The taproom of Vineyard Club felt old but more in a finely-aged-wine sort of way than in a plumbing-never-works-right kind of way. Black-and-white photos of men in suits and ties (and women in the newer photos) adorned the wood-paneled walls. She studied the nearest photo, imagining herself in the group of students.

Don't get carried away, she told herself. She had no idea if she'd be accepted to Princeton, much less the über-exclusive Vineyard Club. What if they saw that B from ninth-grade history? What if she hadn't done enough extracurriculars? She thought she had an okay list: student council secretary (but never president), twice chorus for the school play (never the lead), part-time employee at Grandpa's flower shop (not optional), one year of tap dance (big mistake), yellow belt in tae kwon do (Grandpa's idea after the tap-dance fiasco), catcher for junior varsity softball.... Maybe she should have done more. She should have pushed to fit in one more AP class this year. Or joined the debate team. Or discovered the cure for cancer.

Grandpa led them across the sticky floor to the stairs. "We're on a hill, so the taproom is essentially the basement," he explained. "The rest of the club is upstairs."

The wooden steps were worn from hundreds of feet over a hundred years. More photos lined the staircase. Mom lingered on the fourth step. "It's you but it isn't," she said cryptically.

Lily froze. Please, not another brain hiccup. She was having them more and more often these days. "Are you okay, Mom?"

Grandpa doubled back. "Come on, Rose," he said gently. He lifted her fingers away from a photograph and then guided her upstairs. He didn't look at Lily.

Maybe it hadn't been a hiccup. Sometimes it was hard to tell when Mom was being artistically enigmatic or actually crazy. Please hold it together, Lily prayed silently at Mom, at least while we're in the club! She followed Mom and Grandpa upstairs.

Stained-glass windows cast red, green, and gold shadows across leather couches and high-back chairs. An Oriental rug covered the floor. Sections of the rug were worn to threads that looked like tan scars against the faded scarlet swirls. One end of the room was dominated by a stone fireplace with a massive marble mantel. It was flanked by an oil painting and a cream-white door. The other end of the room held a shiny black piano, as well as a doorway to a billiard room. It was all very grand and all very--

"-- dead," Mom said, as if completing Lily's thought. "It needs sunlight. Fresh air!" She waved her hands at the stained-glass windows.

A new voice spoke, "But then we'd lose our carefully cultivated aura of stuffiness." All three of them pivoted to see an elderly gentleman enter through the cream-white door. "Gentleman" was the absolute right word for him. Dressed in a starched Brooks Brothers shirt and sporting a meticulously trimmed beard, he looked like someone who would know which fork was the salad fork while blindfolded with his hands tied behind his back.

Grandpa dropped their suitcase with a thump. "Joseph!" He strode across the room with a wide smile on his face.

"Richard, we're glad you made it." The two men clasped hands and then patted each other on the back in a stereotypical grown-man hug. Clearly, this was one of Grandpa's college friends. Lily tried to picture the two of them as boys here in this club, and she failed. This man had never been young. He looked past Grandpa to Lily. "And you've brought your precocious granddaughter?"

Lily nearly glanced behind her to see whom he was talking about. Yes, she took care of Mom a lot, and she managed the flower shop under Grandpa's supervision, but that was due to necessity, not precociousness. Precocious kids had dimples. And wore pigtails and sailor suits and recited Shakespeare in twelve languages by age two... Oh, God, what if that was her competition for Princeton admission?

Grandpa beckoned her over. "Lily, I'd like to introduce you to my oldest friend, Joseph Mayfair." Lily deposited the duffel bag next to the suitcase and joined Grandpa.

"Did you have to say ‘oldest'?" Mr. Mayfair said with an affected wince. He extended his hand to Lily. She shook it, and he closed both hands around hers, effectively trapping her hand. "Pleasure to finally meet you."

She shot Grandpa a look. He knew she didn't like to be talked about behind her back. She got enough of that at school. Grandpa looked unrepentant.

Mr. Mayfair continued to clasp her hand. "Are you ready?" he asked.

He sounded so intense that she felt a butterflies-in-the-stomach flutter. "Ready for what?" She considered how to squirm her hand away without being rude to this stately gentleman.

Grandpa scowled at his friend. "I know the rules," he said. "I haven't told her anything."

Nodding approval, Mr. Mayfair released Lily's hand. She flexed her fingers as she looked back and forth between Grandpa and Mr. Mayfair. Grandpa had never involved a stranger in his surprises before; they were a family-only tradition. Of course, this man wasn't a stranger to Grandpa. Lily might not have heard of him, but Grandpa had claimed him as his oldest friend. For the first time, it bothered Lily that Grandpa never talked about his college friends. She didn't like the thought of her beloved grandfather having any secrets from her, especially since he seemed to have told this man about her.

Joining them, Mom held out her hand. "I'm Rose Carter, Richard's daughter."

He clasped her hand. "My dear, we are acquainted," he said. His voice was soft and gentle. "Do you not remember?"

Uh-oh, Lily thought.

Mom's lips pinched into an o. Silently, she shook her head.

As soon as Mr. Mayfair let go of Mom's hand, Lily took it. She spread her fingers over Mom's whitening knuckles.

"You have known me for many years," he said. "I even officiated at your wedding..." He looked as if he wanted to say more, but he halted. "I'm sorry. I'm distressing you."

"Not at all," Mom said, all politeness and cheerfulness.

"Richard, she shouldn't be here," Mr. Mayfair said. "She should be home."

Grandpa shook his head. "She chose this, and I promised to see it through. I'm not going back on my word now."

Lily thought that was a rather melodramatic way to put it. She squeezed Mom's hand. A smile was still plastered on Mom's face, as if she didn't mind that people were talking about her.

Grandpa turned to Mom and asked, "Will you stay right here in this room until we return?" He spoke carefully, making sure the words sank in. Everyone had to be extra clear with Mom. Mom could forget where she was and wander off. Two summers ago at the beach on the Jersey Shore, Mom had insisted on fetching ice cream by herself. They found her an hour later, watching the carousel a mile down the beach. She said she was waiting for the horses to fly. After that, Lily didn't like leaving her alone anywhere.

"Mom..." Lily began.

Mom squeezed Lily's hand and then let go. "I'll be right here when you return," she promised. "I'll practice my piano!" She pointed at the grand piano.

"You know you don't play piano, right?" Lily said.

"Hence the need for practice, practice, practice!" She wiggled her fingers in the air. Lily grinned and then kissed her mother's cheek. Mom was such an amazing person. Her own mind betrayed her on a near-daily basis, and she still found the strength to be gracious and funny. "I shall be a virtuoso by the time you return," Mom said.

Grandpa escorted Lily to the cream-white door by the fireplace. Mr. Mayfair preceded them and then halted before the door. In a low voice, he said to Grandpa, "She didn't even recognize me."

In an equally low voice, Grandpa said, "Her rate of decline is worse than we expected."

"Perhaps we should--"

Grandpa interrupted. "My family, my decision. We must act now."

Mr. Mayfair regarded him for a moment, then nodded and opened the door. Before Lily could ask Grandpa any questions about this odd exchange, she heard Mr. Mayfair announce, "It's time."

A knot formed in the base of Lily's stomach. "You know I hate surprises," she said under her breath.

"No, you don't," Grandpa said just as softly. "You love them. And I promise this will be the best surprise of all." He held the door open for her, and Lily ducked under his arm. She halted in the doorway.

A dozen men and women waited inside a private library. Each was positioned as if for a painting ("Old Boys at Princeton," Lily instantly dubbed it -- if there was such a thing as an Old Boys' Network, this was it). A man in a black suit posed before a marble fireplace. Hands clasped behind his back, he regarded the cold ashes in the hearth with the solemnity reserved for a funeral. Another man leaned pseudocasually against the frame of a stained-glass window. He held an open book loosely in his hands. Lily noticed he was holding it upside down. A third man, portly and elderly, filled a thronelike chair that had armrests shaped like tiger heads. He puffed on a pipe, and smoke drifted in lazy curls over his head. Two women with impeccable posture perched on a red leather settee, and another woman with an ivory-tipped cane occupied a wingback chair. Others were perched on chairs and sofas or standing beside bookshelves.

The room itself overflowed with leather-bound books and Tiffany lamps. Above the marble fireplace was an oil painting of St. George and the Dragon. The stained-glass window depicted a tableau of knights and scholars around an emerald-green dragon with ruby talons. The green glass dragon wore a silver chain around its neck.

Lily heard awkward piano notes drift in from the main room. One of the younger men winced at a particularly inventive chord, and Mr. Mayfair shut the door.

Silence fell over the room.

Lily strained to hear the plunk of piano keys, but no sound penetrated the door. Her own breathing echoed unnaturally loudly in her ears. She wondered why a random room was so well soundproofed. She glanced at Grandpa. He was beaming, his smile as broad as the Cheshire Cat's. It wasn't reassuring.

As if he were introducing her to a concert audience, Grandpa said, "This is my granddaughter, Lily!" Pride swelled his voice until he nearly crowed. "She is ready for the test!"


What test?

No one had mentioned a test. She hadn't agreed to a test.

Snap! Lily jumped. The man at the window had shut his book. Now he straightened and smiled at her, not unkindly. "Splendid. Welcome, Lily. Are you ready to claim your destiny?"

"Presumptuous," the heavyset woman in the wingback chair said. She thumped her ivory-tipped cane on the floor for emphasis, but the ruby-red Oriental rug muffled the sound.

Lily opened her mouth to defend herself -- she couldn't be presumptuous when she didn't even presume to have the least idea of what they were talking about. Before she could speak, Grandpa squeezed her shoulder. "She was born for this," he said.

The woman sniffed. "We shall soon see."

This could be some sort of admissions interview, she thought. Lily's heart hammered faster. If Grandpa had arranged an alumni interview, he should have warned her. He knew how important Princeton was to her! If this had anything to do with admissions--

"Oh, for pity's sake, Joseph," the man with the book said. "Put the child out of suspense before she pees on the floor from nerves."

Lily felt her face redden. She wasn't that nervous.

Should she be?

Honestly, these people could make a rock nervous. All of them were staring at her as if they were a pride of lions and she was a plump gazelle. She wanted to shout, Stop looking at me! But thankfully, before she blurted out anything she'd regret, all eyes shifted to Mr. Mayfair.

He drew himself straighter, and Lily suddenly understood what the term "presence" meant. This man had presence. You couldn't not look at him. It felt as if all the oxygen in the room had been pulled toward him. "Lily Carter, you are here because your grandfather, Richard Carter, has recommended you for the Legacy Test."

She dragged her eyes away from Mr. Mayfair to look at Grandpa. He was still smiling in that rather alarming way.

"First, we must ask you not to speak of this test to anyone beyond this room," Mr. Mayfair said. She thought of Mom and wished she could still hear the piano notes.

The man with the book chimed in, "It isn't a pain-of-death sort of command. We'd simply prefer that the media not catch wind of our little tradition. They would misunderstand. Willfully misunderstand, I might add."

Everyone nodded so solemnly that Lily thought maybe she'd misheard and he'd said it was a pain-of-death command. Standing here in this room, she could believe it. She felt as if she were surrounded by royalty. These people radiated self-confidence. She had the sense that each of them could fill a room with his or her presence if he or she so chose. Together, they made the air feel thick.

"Can we have your word that you will keep the contents of this conversation private?" Mr. Mayfair asked. In the same kind voice he'd used with Mom earlier, he added, "Of course with the exception of your family."

She didn't dare do anything but nod.

He smiled approvingly, and Lily's knees shook. She didn't know why it mattered to her that he approved, but she felt a flood of relief when he smiled. "The Legacy Test is offered only to the very select few," Mr. Mayfair said. "Passing means automatic acceptance to Princeton University."

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.

Chapter Two

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--


Of course.

"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.

Oh. Right.

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--

Clang, screech!

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.


Available now from Simon & Schuster / Margaret K. McElderry Books.

Buy this book from, Barnes & Noble, Books-a-Million, Powell's Books,, or your local independent bookseller.

Return to Excerpts page.

ISBN: 978-1416986454

Copyright © 2023 Sarah Beth Durst
All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this site or portions thereof in any form whatsoever.
Website created and maintained by Sarah Beth Durst and Adam Durst.