Brendan held one of the wooden double doors open and I tentatively stepped into the library. Silence enveloped me. From the moment that I was claimed by the comforting stillness of the room, I knew that I was among books. No matter how alienating it was to move to a new school in a new city, places like this could always feel like home.
A bookcase, erected from the palest birch wood, rose from the floor to the ceiling. It was joined to the wall on our left and swept around us in a ring to our right. The room might have ended there, but in each corner of the shelf I could see there was a small gap, just large enough for someone to squeeze through. Beyond there, I knew I would find the rest of the library. This wasn’t simply a room – it was a labyrinth. It was a maze filled with secrets and deep within its walls there would undoubtedly be a whole host of treasures.
In a way, every library was the same: tranquil, yet somehow alive with anticipation. In this place, possibilities were near infinite. In my mind I knew that there were hundreds of books here, each containing thousands of words. There must have been an endless well of knowledge simply waiting for my eyes to look upon it, but I wouldn’t know for sure until I explored every page for myself. I could hardly wait to get started.
Despite this being my first visit, I took the lead and Brendan followed behind me. It had never been difficult for me to find my way in libraries. I approached the gap in the shelf and saw pieces of laminated paper blue-tacked around it, crowded and overlapping. Each was a sign, reading ‘Fiction A-F’, ‘Local Interest’, ‘Religion and Philosophy’ and so on, each with an arrow pointing in a vague direction.
I stepped through. Looking left and right, I could see that the bookcases continued to spread out in rings, like ocean waves climbing up the shore. At various points, little doorways guided me deeper within. Because the bookcases reached the ceiling, our source of light came from daylight lamps situated in little alcoves within the bookcases. The lamps were mounted on metal stands which could be adjusted freely for reading beneath.
“Do you want to sit down?” Brendan approached from behind and whispered into my ear, snapping me out of my trance. “Though, you can stand here and gawk all day if you want. Don’t let me stop you.”
He stopped smirking when I elbowed him in the stomach. “I wasn’t gawking.”
“That was uncalled for!” He protested.
“Keep your voice down.” I teased, tearing my eyes away from the books. Sitting down was probably a good idea. I had to sort through everything Brendan had brought first.
He guided me in a zig-zag route towards the edge of the room. The forest of bookcases opened out into a clearing next to a window. Light flooded in. Before us, there was a small coffee table surrounded by armchairs. And then, tucked away in the corner, I found the coffee machine.
After Brendan had made his tea and I had made myself a well-sugared white coffee, I curled up in my cushioned seat and picked up the first book on the pile that Brendan had laid down on the table. Turning it round, I scanned the blurb.
“Sound like your kind of thing?” I looked up, and suddenly noticed how the sunlight really brought out the flecks of green in his hazel irises. “Jet?” He asked again, bringing me back into the real world.
“Oh, sorry!” I laughed, sheepishly. I really shouldn’t stare at people like that. “Secretly I have a thing for female action heroes. There should be more of them.”
Brendan stared at me for a moment. I halted.
“I’m also straight.”
He visibly sighed with relief “Ah. Good.” He nodded. “Well, not good. Not that it’s not bad either! I…” He fumbled for words. At this point, his face had flushed so red it was verging on purple.
“Thanks for lending this stuff to me.” I felt the flush of heat beneath my skin. “I take it that you read a lot?”
Brendan seemed to relax a little, but when he picked up his cup of tea he still gripped it so tightly that he was on the verge of crushing the cup. For such an outwardly level-headed guy, he was really easy to wind up. “Umm…” He considered his reply. “Well, when you don’t get out much, you need something to occupy your time.”
“I guess.” I traced the edge of my coffee cup, thoughtfully. “Why the lack of friends?”
“For me, friendships usually end in someone getting hurt. And if someone gets hurt, it’s usually my fault.” He sighed, heavily.
Despite how standoffish he’d appeared initially, I could hardly visualise Brendan hurting a fly, never mind his own friends. Why was he so convinced that he was a danger to people? “Fights happen.” I muttered, nonchalantly. “We end up hurting others because we can’t see beyond our own perspective and our own emotions. But then, we can learn from our mistakes so it doesn’t happen again.”
By the way Brendan’s whole body immediately tensed up, I could tell that I wasn’t helping.
“Yeah, but have you ever lashed out at your own sister?” His voice echoed through the walls and resonated in the piping. I wondered how many people heard.
His anger wasn’t directed at me, but I was still rattled by it. “No, but I did ruthlessly beat up a group of 10 people, resulting in a grand total of three sprained limbs, two fractures and one dislocated knee.”
From the moment I’d spoken, I wished I hadn’t. Surprise squirmed in Brendan’s expression. Our words hung over us for a few moments, heavy and unrelenting, and we plummeted into an oppressive silence.
Maybe Brendan and I were more alike than I realised.
“No, I’m sorry.” He cut me off. “All that was unnecessary. We only met the other day, I should hardly be shouting and unloading this kind of rubbish onto you.”
“It’s okay.” I gazed contemplatively over Brendan’s shoulder for a moment. Tree branches twitched in the late autumn breeze. “If socialising makes you that uncomfortable, why am I an exception to the not-making-friends rule?”
The smile he gave me then made my stomach jitter. It lit up his face like a long-forgotten summer. “You’re different. You’re a misfit, like me.”
“I don’t know whether to take that as an insult or a compliment.”
“Oh, definitely an insult.”
I kicked him in the shin from the other side of the table.
“That’s the second time you’ve injured me today.” He gasped, clutching his leg as if I’d actually done some sort of damage.
I raised my eyebrows at him and pulled a face, and placed another of his books on the floor beside me. When I came to the bottom of the pile, the teasing stopped. I froze. The last book was something different entirely. Out of the corner of my eye, it had looked like it had nothing more than a plain white cover, but now I could clearly see the insignia brandished across the front. I’d seen it before. It was the winged arrow – the same one that had been on the back of Bridget’s jacket.
There was no title, no blurb, nothing on the spine. There was something about it that chilled my fingers, a strange feeling that sent ice through my veins. “What is this?” I asked, opening it up. Inside, I could make out that there was writing, but it seemed all blurry. It wasn’t that the font was too small… what was it, a printing issue? Why was it so hard to read?
Brendan paused. “What do you see?”
“An arrow and a pair of wings in a circle. Either it’s published by an amateur or I need my eyes testing, because I’m finding it really hard to read what’s inside.”
“You’re not supposed to be able to see anything.” Brendan muttered, and I wondered if he’d actually intended for me to hear him. “When you arrived in town, did you see a really tall building, lit up in blue, close to the square?”
I couldn’t really remember, but I thought I might have noticed something of that description. “I think so.”
“Next time you’re in that neck of the woods, look for it. Try asking someone about it, see if they know anything about the building.”
I hadn’t the foggiest idea what he was getting at. “Brendan, what’s going on here?” I groaned, slamming the book shut. “You’re being cryptic, like everyone else in this damn place. What do you know that I don’t?”
“I’m not going to pretend, Jet, I know a lot of things you don’t. But, I can’t tell you. Not yet. You’d never believe me if I did.”
I was going to hit him around the face with his stupid book if this went on much longer. “Come on Brendan, don’t give me this.”
“Sorry, Jet. You have to be patient. For now, just give it some thought.” He gestured to the book in my hand. “Maybe give it to someone else and see if they see the same things you do. Not Bridget or Alice though.”
I still had no idea why he was asking me to do these things, but I’d had enough of playing the guessing game for today. “Alright.” I stacked all the books into the pile, putting the one with the strange logo at the bottom. At least I had some good fantasy reading to take my mind off the incomprehensible bullshit people were feeding me today. I stood up from my seat and threw my empty coffee cup into the bin. “I should probably be heading back.”
“I’ll walk you?” He offered. I decided that I wasn’t angry enough with him to say no.
Maybe I was a little irritated at Brendan for giving me all these strange nonsensical clues, but I probably shouldn’t have been. From what I could tell, he genuinely intended to let me in on all the secrecy surrounding this city. It was better than nothing. He actually understood that I wasn’t one of those people that was better off living in ignorance. If the truth was strange, shocking, even if the truth was horrible, I needed to know. I couldn’t stand being lied to.
When we eventually reached my dorm, we said our goodbyes.
“Enjoy your books.”
“I will.” I retrieved my key from my pocket.
Brendan turned back towards the corridor and began to walk in the direction of the staircase. “Oh, and Jet?” He stopped me just before I was about to step inside.
“Yeah?” I called back to him.
“Do you…” He faltered, scratching his head.
“Do I what?”
He groaned, as if he was having to battle himself to get the words out. “Do you want to go for a decent cuppa in town sometime soon?” He blurted, so quickly that I hardly managed to hear what he’d said. “Saturday, maybe?” He shrugged.
I chuckled to myself. I hadn’t managed to do much work in it yet, but at least my notebook might be useful for something. After removing a pen lid with my teeth, I scribbled something down onto the paper. Tearing the page from the book, I folded it down the middle and turned the corners into the centre.
When the paper aeroplane took flight, the bemused look that spread across his face was priceless. It hit him squarely between the eyes, before bouncing off and floating to the floor. “That’s my number.” I told him. “Text me.”
And with that, I left the corridor.