“How are you feeling today?” Gram asks me as I waltz into the kitchen.
I grab an apple off the counter and think. “I’m…feeling…okay.” I manage to say. Even though okay isn’t what I’m feeling, it’s the closest thing to it. “You?”
Gram smiles and I drop my apple. You see, Gram never smiles. Never. She just smirks but never full on smiles. I’m so shocked by it all I almost don’t hear her answer. “Excited.”
“What?” I ask picking up my now bruised apple.
“You asked me how I felt and I said I was excited.” She smiles again and blatantly eyes her garden tools. “Do you have to be somewhere?”
Uh oh. A thing everyone knows about Gram is that she loves gardening. Her garden is the best in the whole town. When she eyes her gardening tools and asks you a question, the outcome is that you’ll probably be on your knees trying to plant some petunias for her or whatever.
“Yeah…” I say. My eyes wander to the floor as I wait for my knees to give way. I don’t. I’ve found this loophole in ‘diel’. If I were to be asked a question like this, I would tell a little lie and then decide to do what I just lied about therefore escaping the wrath of ‘diel’. ”I’m going to the library. I’ll do a bit of reading for leisure and this report I have to do.”
“Look at me.” Gram orders. I do and she holds my gaze. I hold hers back. She’s trying to get me to confess to lying but it won’t work. After a while, she smiles and I’m shocked again. “Alright, be home by six. We have some planning to do.”
I nod and make my way out of the house and into the front yard. There are no shuttles in sight so I decide to phone Riley for a lift. “Hey.”
“And to what do I owe the honor of this phone call?” He greets.
I explain my predicament. “Can you give me a lift to the library?”
Riley laughs in answer. “No.”
“Come on, Riles. Help your girlfriend out.” I say rolling my eyes.
“Stop rolling those beautiful eyes of yours, Paige, and get in the car.” He says on the phone. I hang up and see him round the corner with his car. He stops right in front of me with the engine running. “Get in, babe.”
I slide into the passenger seat. “You jerk.” I say, kissing him on the cheek.
He pecks me my cheek too. “But you love me.”
“That fact is not lost on me, Riles. To the library!”
The drive to the library is quiet save for the radio. As soon as we pull up, Riley looks at me. “Hey.”
“Hey.” I smile. I’m always shy whenever I’m with Riley.
“Are you excited?” I remember Gram and I shiver. Riley takes it as an answer. “Why not?”
“It’s not that. Gram said the same thing and she smiled. Riles, she smiled. It was creepy.” I shiver again.
Riley frowns. “Yeah? Tell me all about it.”
I get out of the car. “Later, alright? I’ll call you to pick me up.” I slam the door and Riley drives away.
Now looking at the library steps, I’m reluctant to go inside. I have to because my lie said that I had to do a bit of reading. If I don’t, I’d be dead three days from my eighteenth birthday and I don’t want to be a dead girl three days from her eighteenth birthday. I trudge up the stairs and enter the building.
The library is a beautiful place. There are miles and miles of shelves full of books. There are two big rooms for computers and the entryway is as grand as a ballroom.
I wave at Mrs. Jones and make my way to the secluded chairs at the very back. The back has a reputation for couples hooking up there to escape the watchful eye of Mrs. Jones, so it's given a wide berth which is a shame since this is where the comfiest chairs are. When I reach a table, there are still books on the table from the last user but I just shove them aside. I sit on a plush red chair and inhale the dust of the books.
My eyes wander to the book in front of me. It looks so worn and tattered. I hate books like these. I always get the impression that its previous owner never took care of it but Gram says it means that the story is so well loved that people always read it. With that in mind, I pick it up and look at the cover. It shows a puppet with strings on a work table.
“Pinocchio.” I read. I open it and the pages are so yellowed with age, I’m afraid that if I turn one, it would turn to dust. The first line jumps out at me:
How it happened that Maestro Cherry, carpenter, found a piece of wood that wept and laughed like a child
I tentatively leaf though the book and soon, I’m so engrossed with the story.
“Is that you, Evans?” I turn around and see Cassidy Conta smiling down at me.
“Hey, Cass.” I say. “What are you doing here?”
Cassidy laughs and sits down beside me. “I was going to ask you the same thing. I’m here to pick up a book for dad.” She waves a brown bag around. “I just saw you here and I knew I had to say hi. What are you reading?” She leans closer to me.
“A book.” I say evasively. I didn’t want her in on the cool story. It’s my discovery.
Cassidy laughs. “We are in the library. What’s the title?”
Damn Cassidy. “Pinocchio.” I say through gritted teeth. “Before you ask it’s about a puppet who wants to be a real boy.”
Cassidy is looking at everything but me. “The puppet whose nose gets bigger every time he lies?”
I narrow my eyes. “Yeah. Have you read this before?”
“Me? Oh no. It’s just a story anyway. Not true. I have to go now; my dad might kill me if I’m late. See you later Paige!” I watch her run towards the exit and yank the door open. She looks back at me one more time before she’s gone.
I go back to my book. I’m at the ending where Pinocchio is a real boy now and everyone is happy. “The end.” I say, shutting the book. I find the book I need for my biology report and check it out. Outside, I pick up my phone to call Riley. “Where is my chariot, squire?” I laugh into the phone.
“Not approaching there at the moment, your highness. Can you manage taking the bus? I have to do some things.”
I try not to hide my disappointment. “Okay.”
“I’m really sorry I can’t pick you up, Paige. I just really need to do some things.” He grunts in the phone.
Is he working out? He isn’t going to pick me up because he’s working out? “What are you doing?” I ask curiously.
I hear him sigh. “Stuff for my dad, Paige. You know how he gets on my case whenever he’s around.”
I did. “I’m sorry for asking. I’ll just call you later.”
Riley must hear my disappointment. “I’ll come over to your house, later. I love you, Paige.”
“I love you too.”
Gram and I are in the living room with of millions of papers scattered around us. “Ugh! I give up gram! This is impossible!”
Gram gives me her hardest stare. “Paige, you know as well as I do that you have to finalize everything. Remember that it was you who wanted to have a party.”
I sigh. “I never knew party planning was so stressful! Can we just forget about this and just have some cake?”
“Paige, honey, I have guests who would want to meet you. They’re from all over the country too. Would you want to burden them a drive for nothing?”
No, I did not. “We can just have cake with them and a few of my friends.”
Gram smirks. “Isn’t that a party?”
“No, Gram, it’s a get together.” I look at her. “Did you find someone to help you out at the garden?”
Gram hands me the guest list. “I changed my mind. I had to do something else. I trust that you wisely went to the library?”
I laugh and stand up to get us some drinks. “I’m alive aren’t I?” I maneuver around the papers and smile when I’m successful. “I read this cool book called Pinocchio. I wish I could’ve checked it out for you.” I disappear into the kitchen. When I come back, Gram is pale. “Gram? Are you okay?” I don’t care anymore if I step on some papers. “Here’s some water.” I hand her one of the glasses.
She takes a big sip from it. She looks into my concerned eyes and sighs. “Nothing, child. I just remembered something.”
“That you’re almost an adult is all. Now,” she says, handing me the glass to clap her hands. “Let’s get this all sorted so we can go to bed.”
I sit down again beside her. I’m worried. “Actually, I’m good for another couple hours. I don’t have to do anything else anyway.” Gram nods and I search for the guest list. I read through it. “Why isn’t Mrs. McAlister invited to my party? Aren’t you best friends?”
Gram waves my question away. “We had a little fight a few weeks ago. We’re not speaking to each other.”
I continue reading. “Gram, I don’t know half of these people. Who’s Charlotte Ames?” I say frowning.
“They’re relatives. Charlotte is your mother’s best friend. She used to visit you and your parents before.”
I feel a lump at the base of my throat. I try sipping some water but it’s still there. I don’t like talking about my parents. They died when I was three because of a fire at our old house. Dad’s mother, who happened to be the closest living relative I had, took me in. I’ve been living with Gram for fifteen years. When I was younger, I’d try desperately to draw pictures of my parents from my memory because I couldn’t remember them all that well. I felt that failing to remember them made me a horrible child.
“-would like to meet you.” Gram says.
“Charlotte is coming a day before your birthday to help prepare.”
I nod just as my cell phone rings. I smile as I pick it up. “Hey, Riles.”
There’s silence on the other line. “You’re not mad at me?”
I try to put on my most annoyed tone. “I’m plenty mad at you, Riley Chester Crawford.”
“Shit.” I hear him say. We both know that I would only say his full name when I was really mad. I smile wider; I can imagine the cute little crease on his forehead whenever he was anxious.
“You can make it up to me, tomorrow. I hope you have an amazing day planned.” I say giving up on my charade and giggling.
There’s silence on the other end. “I hate and love you so much right now.” He says laughing. “And I will make it up to you tomorrow. I’m really sorry about earlier, babe.”
“I didn’t mind.” I say.
“Well, I do. I promise tomorrow will be so extravagant it will make your birthday party look weak.”
“I look forward to it, bye.” I hang up and let out the giddiest, girliest shriek I didn’t even know I had in me.