Rose Galway had always had a gift for timing. She managed to get under the awning and get her key out of the lock in the library door just as the rain swept in over the artificial landscape behind her. She knew that “artificial” wasn’t, technically, the truest word: the dark green leaves and brilliant purple blooms covering the concrete square of imprisoned earth a few feet behind her were as alive and vital as anything else that might happen to grow in the untended ground along ignored stretches of freeway; but something about those little shocks of vibrancy in what was supposed to be a desert landscape always felt a little false to her. If nothing else, that had the distinction, in Rose’s mind, of being the most natural instances of unnaturalness she had ever seen.
It was just past five o’clock. The incoming storm and the early evening hour were just enough to make the light switch to one side of the door one with the shadows. Rose slid her fingers along the cool surface of stucco until they stumbled over plastic, washing the room in white florescent light. The harsh glow bounced off of the dark polished wood of the front desk, and Rose dropped her bag on the nearest chair without taking her eyes away from the small envelope that just managed to miss being caught in the glare of the light’s reflection.
Rose leaned against the heavy polished wood and smirked as she opened the envelope: a cream-colored, Rose covered thing with a pink flap.
“I’m a little surprised she didn’t perfume it before she left,” Rose muttered, removing the index card inside and reading it softly to the empty room. “Rosie–the new donations are in the back, boxed up against the wall. The re-shelves are on the cart. You know what to do.”
Rose shook her head as she returned the note to its envelope. “If she knows I know what to do, then why does she bother leaving these?” Every night, a card with unneeded instructions; and every night, Rose read it and dropped it in her bag on her way out. She decided that there much have been some unexamined comfort in the ritual for both of them. She tossed the envelope back on the desk as she pivoted toward the back room.
Tall bookshelves, mostly oak, scattered with a few pine, cast their light shadows on the worn green carpet. Ever since she was a child, walking the lines between these shelves had given her the sense of being enveloped in the sweet silence of thick, fragrant trees. Her finger tips wandered upward from her side and brushed over the top edges of musty, thin pages; and down comfortable, warn spines like seasoned hands tracing the face of a lover.
This place belonged to the college now. She had to remind herself, every so often; the memory of the family decision–the meeting that had been held while she was away at school–always stung her. But it was good to remember the facts. The place wasn’t theirs, anymore. But, whatever the deed said, some part of Rose would always belong to it. There was no more she could do about that then there was anything she could do about the deed that her grandmother had signed, or Dr. Sylen’s first visit to the property that summer, when he had seen the building from the street and come in to “have a look around.” Sometimes Rose wished that he had first seen the place at night…then that contract might have been harder to sign. But grandmother had plugged up that hole in the negotiation–she had made him agree that only maintenance staff would be allowed in the library after eight PM. Then she had pulled the necessary strings to insure that that building’s “staff” would be comprised entirely of the family. Rose didn’t want to think about what would happen when they ran out of relatives to employ.

Rose paused near the center of a long shelf and reached behind five red leather bound volumes and pulled out a small notebook. As she turned her back, there was a low, dry scratch behind her. She pivoted in time to force the red volume back into its place before it managed to leave the shelf. She glanced down at the thin white numbers glowing on the screen in her pocket.

The rain had found its voice, rhythmic and insistent against the stone and glass of the roof by the time she settled in behind a walled in wooden desk at the back of the long room. Its steady hum settled around her, filling in the background as she bent over the page. It should have been just enough to help her ignore whatever other rustlings might wind themselves around the little circle of silence that the emptiness and the warmth and the thick glass created.

()

Ryan Hayes had always had a gift for embracing opportunities; and he had been watching the lights and shadows in the windows long enough to recognize the loose padlock on the library’s back door as an opportunity. He pulled down in one hard motion on the slightly rusted lock, and didn’t flinch as it broke off with a low snap. There was no need to bother with formalities; in fact, the front door would likely attract more attention. There were man made annoyances that would barge into the quiet.  She would be listening for that. Back here, the dull snap of the old lock giving way could have been the storm forcing a branch against the building. There was very little chance that his choice of opportunity would ruin his entrance.

He took a step into the library’s back room and blinked into a sudden dullness. There was even less light here than there had been out in the growing storm. The low, quiet glow of the yellow light met him like the stern guard of an old sentinel. It was the kind of light that made the room look uneven and almost sickly; the sort of light that did not want you to stay. The door at the other end of the short room, just visible beyond the two thick book cases that made the space narrow and cast even more shadow on the faded green carpet, the suggestion of bright white fluorescents framed the entrance to the main room of the library. He slid into the soft shadows between the shelves and watched the outline of white light in front of him, feeling suddenly, strangely, like an actor taking deep breaths and drawing his courage in the comforting darkness behind the stage before gliding out into the lights and the music and the noise. A jolt of adrenaline, sweet of sharp, shot through his body and lifted his pulse. In its own way, it was only right, that the muscles in his stomach should tighten with anticipation and his teeth should clinch with the rush of it; but there was confidence in his tensed limbs, not fear. He had been rehearsing for this moment long enough to earn his stage. And he would win his audience over, whatever that took.

()

Rose had nearly lost herself in the glow of the page and the undulating voice of the rain when a low, rhythmic thud on the carpet behind her pulled her awake. She eased her pen down onto her book, taking a deep breath as the air behind her grew warm with life. A sudden, irrational spasm of adrenaline made her fingers grow cold as a smiling, gentle face entered her eye line and she felt her body jolt backward against her will.

“Good lord!” Her voice sounded almost perverse to her own ears as it cut into the near perfect peace of the long, empty room. *No—not quit as empty now.* She felt herself pulled into the reality of the moment like a hand dragging her up from cool water. The boy with the round face raised his hands as he stepped back. There was a familiarity in the gentleness of his smile that only served to confuse her more.

“I’m so sorry,” he was almost laughing, but there was no malice in it. “I wasn’t trying to scare you—I thought you would be closer to the front desk. I did not think you would even hear me come in.”

“Ok,” Rose answered, turning away from the desk. She sat sideways, wrapping her arm around the back of the chair as the moment settled over her, bright and loud, leaving her swallowing against the sudden dryness in her mouth and the near painful fluttering still dying down in her chest. “Since you brought it up, let’s start with that, then. Just how the hell did you get in here? Was a locked front door too subtle a message for you?”

“Wow.” The young man took another step back, but the apologetic smile on his face was edging into a smirk. The amusement in his eyes briefly made her wish that she had picked a heavier hardback from the history shelves before sitting down. “Please, don’t shoot. I didn’t have a chance to try the front door; the rain kind of trapped me in back…and this is a public building, isn’t it?”

Rose felt a sudden stinging somewhere near her diaphragm. She averted her eyes from his for a minute, feeling her face grow warm.

“Oh, right–Technically, you have a point.” The admission still had a defensive edge, but her tone softened a bit as she looked him in the eye again. “I guess I still forget that sometimes.”

There was a flicker of gentleness in his eyes that edged Rose off balance.

“Nothing to be sorry about,’ he muttered. He sounded a bit distracted as he took a hesitant step closer to her desk. She blinked into his stare, feeling her fingers grow cool when she noticed that he did not return the gesture.

“What?”

“Nothing,” he answered quietly, tilting his head a bit as he continued to study her face. “It’s just that that smile looks a little forced.”

Rose pointedly matched the smirk he had offered her a moment ago and leaned away from him toward the low light of the shelf behind her.

“Really? So, you know what my expressions are supposed to look like, now? You know what, buddy? The state might own this building, but my grandmother still built it. I think that gives me just enough clout to toss you out on your soaked hide—and you are quickly wearing out your welcome.”

Rose watched him quirk a light eyebrow and that feeling of leaning too far left on a tight rope settled over her stomach again.

“So you are a Galloway. I thought so—you had to be.”

The realization that it wasn’t a question made Rose’s lungs feel a little bit heavier, just for a moment.

“Yes,” she answered. She swallowed against a sudden strange tightness in her throat and prayed he did not see. “And your point is?”

He took another step toward the desk. Rose pushed her chair backward as he half-sat on the edge of the table. She felt her teeth clench as she watched him watch her, trace the movements of her face. His eyes were a perfect veil of contemplation. In full view, he was hidden from the world.

“I like your smile, Rose.’ When he spoke again, his voice was soft. “The real one, I mean.”

Rose took a slow, deep breath. Willed her face to remain hard. Pressed her gaze into his like mortar meeting glass.

“What was your name, again?”

“You smile more here than anywhere else. I’ve noticed that. It’s nice.”

His voice was earnest, imploring, sliding over her like cool silk. Rose was calculating how quickly she could move from here to the door of the back room when something fused in the back of her mind, the new spark demanding a final piece of understanding.

“Why would you assume I was a Galloway?”

This time, it was his turn to blink.

“I’m sorry?”

“You know my first name—sure. Whatever. I assume you’re a student here. So am I. The school’s not that big.” The series of calculations in the back of her mind had presented her with this scenario moments before, as a gesture of comfort. It wasn’t much more effective hearing it aloud. “But where did you get Galloway?”

He edged in closer.

“You forget that this place,” he glanced up toward the glass in the ceiling, “doesn’t belong to you. You have to be a Galloway.”

The growl of the rain above their heads had been growing steadily. Rose listened to it beat against the glass, aching to crawl its way inside.

“So, that’s what you think of us? That’s sweet, thank you.”

Ryan paused as his ear caught an intrusion; a quiet rustling just below the rhythmic pounding of the rain.

He smiled; a half-formed thing that felt oddly grotesque in the harsh florescent light.

“It’s not your fault,” he answered. “Not really. No more so than any other child like you. You’re Fiona Galloway’s granddaughter. You’re used to having everything to yourself.”

Have leaned forward, resting his weight on one hand. Rose clinched her teeth, but found that her muscles would not obey the command to move.

“I’ve been watching you a long time—I can’t help but watch you. I see you—I see you better than the others do. You love this place—you’re used to it being all your own. I understand that. You aren’t crazy, like they say you are. You just need to learn to share. I think I could teach you that. I think I could teach you a lot of things, Miss Galloway.”

The use of the formal moniker made Rose’s stomach churn. She was seconds from a reply when she caught a new sound under the rhythm of the rain; a low, deliberate rustling from somewhere behind his back. He gaze shot over his shoulder, and she bit down on her bottom lip in the hope of smothering a sudden smile.

It wasn’t fast enough. Ryan smiled, too.

“There,” he added softly, “I knew you’d come around.”

His warm, rough fingers brushed her temple, and edged lightly down the side of her cheek. Rose’s smile broke over her face as the dry, determined rustling that she had learned to love from childhood grew louder.

He smirked, his fingers lingering in the strands of hair near her face.

“What’s so funny?”

“Nothing,” Rose’s gaze drifted over his shoulder. Her muscles relaxed as she watched the whips of white shadow grow, and develop shape. The form of King Arthur collected itself behind a shelf, its sword growing solid in its hand; the outline of her great grandfather emerged from the shelf to Ryan’s left, as Rose listened to the fifth volume of the Galloway family history drop from its shelf with a low thud. Rose let Ryan’s voice fade into the background as the figures of women in corsets and men in doublets walked forward, soundless, converging on Ryan’s back. He wouldn’t hear them; not yet. But her ear had been taught to love them; her eye had been trained to perceive them long ago.

“You really shouldn’t have done that,” she said finally.

He blinked.

“Done what?”

She forced her gaze back down to his.

“Touched me,” she answered simply. “That was a bad idea.”

Again, that smirk. She would only have to put up with it for a little longer.

“Give me a little more time, and I think you might change your mind about that.”

“I doubt it.”

“Really? Why?”

“I don’t need you to teach me anything, Mr. Hayes,” she answered. “I’ve had plenty of teachers, already. You’re right; Galloway’s do love this place. And this place loves us, too.”

 

 

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