Chapter Five – Roger Barnes and the Library of Woe

Brandi had hoped that everything would be settled at the library. That she hadn’t been dreaming. And the image wasn’t a ghost. But instead, it seemed as though a future unwritten was unfolding before her; and it was her task to figure it out. To make it, make sense, because there was no other way.

In the parking lot, she hopped off her bike and approached Teresa. Yet, when she got closer and her friend turned, Teresa’s expression seemed vapid. She shrugged her shoulders and turned away, as if unhappy to have been kept waiting.

Uttering an apology, Brandi stooped to attach her bike to one of the bike posts. Checking and double checking the lock’s clasp, she ensured that it was secure before stepping away, because although her bike wasn’t new, the fresh coat of paint she had given it the month before, made it seem a tad bit more alluring. She smirked, wondering where the vein of possessiveness had come from as she rubbed sweaty palms into her jeans. Watching her friend, she realized that Teresa was still being tight-lipped.

“Earlier, I saw someone who reminded me of you,” Brandi said, hoping that her friend would soon tire of her childish behavior. And talk. She gazed at her, unnerved; and then their eyes met and she faltered. The laugh that was about to escape her lips, died without air.

She tried again, appraising her friend’s eyes for the tell-tale sign of movement. An expression. Brandi touched her shoulder. “She looked like an older version of you,” Brandi said, before her voice dropped to an inaudible whisper; and Teresa removed her hand and spoke.

“I know.” Her friend laid her books down, on one of the nearby benches and retied her perfect shoelaces. Brandi felt her own eyes open wider in confusion as Teresa nodded. This time she collected her books before going through the glass door and entering the library. At the information desk, she picked up a brochure that listed events around the city and a flyer with a list of new books: How to be a Star Athlete, Hank Aaron’s Best Plays and Baseball’s Greatest.

Like a traffic cop, a male guard directed the pedestrians to various parts of the library. Ignoring him, Brandi followed her, as Teresa took a seat at one of the larger tables in the back. It could accommodate sixteen people. Brandi scratched her head, wondering what she was playing at because they rarely used large tables. On a chair nearby, she saw familiar orange gloves and then met a pair of hazel eyes that seemed intent on studying her. Bringing her hands to her lips Brandi grasped. A few heads turned in their direction, as she tried to figure out how the girl had managed to get there before her, when she had been the one to turn back.

She glanced at Teresa. While the girl smiled and waved, as if they were sharing a joke.

“Sorry but, do I know you?” Brandi asked, stepping forward. She extended her hand.

“Depends on who you ask,” the girl said, standing up. She strode over to where Teresa was sitting and took a seat, never taking her eyes off Brandi. “You’re Brandi, right?” Her eyebrows raised as the girl’s hand went around Teresa’s shoulder. “You go to school with my baby sister.”

Brandi took a step back. The resemblance was too uncanny to miss. She dropped her bag. Her shoulder aching. “The two of you? You’re sisters?”

The older girl laughed. And flashed a smile as if trying to reassure her, while Teresa’s gaze seemed to become more intense.

Brandi shook her head, wondering why everything about this seemed strange. Surely, they couldn’t be twins.

The girl stuck an arm out. “The name’s Stephanie. And I go to Community College in San Diego,” she said, as if trying to convince herself as well as Brandi, who looked down at her hands, trying to come up with some excuse for not being sociable.

“Oh,” Brandy said, too afraid to shake Stephanie’s hand. Her fingers touched the friendship bracelet on her wrist. “Teresa hasn’t spoken about you, so I had no idea.”

The Stephanie raised her hand. Pushing the comments aside. “Of course not. We’re not that close.” The older girl watched as Brandi’s face registered confusion and then shock. She touched her wrist as Brandi halted. “Besides, if you were her, I doubt you’d mention your missing father or sibling to a complete stranger.”

Brandi’s eyes narrowed and her breath caught in her throat as she watched her friend. They had known each other for more than a year. Surely, she wasn’t a stranger, she thought as Stephanie raised a hand and edged closer. “Not your father. Ours, I mean.”

Brandi’s right hand wavered near her chest. Certain that Teresa would never betray her.

She glanced at her friend who nodded towards her sister and said, “I guess I’ll be seeing you.” Getting up, Teresa collected her things and then they left together.

“Sure,” Brandi mumbled, putting her stuff together. It was almost as if they hadn’t planned a lunch date. Or agreed to do the writing assignment together. She fumed, wondering how she would be able to complete the summary alone. Blowing air out through her nose, she doubted that she had enough strength to make the trek home.

And yet, something about the encounter unnerved her, as she got to her feet and trudged outside. Telling herself that it wasn’t that they had done so many things together. Or even that she missed her friend. No, this was more of an awakening. Like she had had with Nicholas when he had knocked her off her chair and tried to warn her. Except that this feeling was different. Because she felt like a balloon, tethered to a string that had been left out to be weathered by the elements. Just before a storm.

Outside, she looked down at her hands. All too aware of the fact that her guide still hadn’t showed up as yet. Looking around, she searched for the path that Teresa and her sister had taken. Wondering if Stephanie could have been hers, and whether or not they were fated to meet again. And whether she was really Teresa’s older sister.

Then, a bell dinged.

And she jumped back, scrambling to one side.

“You ought to be more aware of your surroundings,” a familiar male voice said.

And Brandi turned, her eyes meeting Roger’s. She had no idea that this was one of his hunting grounds and she bared her teeth, uncertain about offering a smile. “This isn’t baseball, Roger. There are no foul balls.”

A girl on a bike sped off ahead of them as Roger dusted his hands in his blue and white track pants. Meanwhile, Brandi observed the school’s colors. Did they have a match today? she wondered, thinking that this was probably the first time that they had spoken outside of English class.

“Baseball or not, you need to be on your guard,” he said, passing a hand over his lips as if demanding her silence. She glared as he adjusted his cap. A motion she assumed would help to blot out the sun. Brandi watched him carefully, her eyes alert, as if searching for a ball.

But there was none.

She looked beyond him, wondering what he had been mumbling about, when she considered herself safe, because as far as she could tell, her bases were covered, and there was nothing else to look out for, since she hadn’t touched the pendant. Not even once. Her arms smoothed over her legs as she fought the urge to reach out and take possession of it.

That was when she had first heard the swishing sound. And saw something coming towards her. She ducked, veering left; she hoped to avoid it. But the ball had other plans. So, instead, it whacked her on the head and knocked her out.

She raised an arm in protest and struggled to get to her feet. “Are you crazy or something?” she yelled, throwing the ball back at him. He caught it with one hand. Wow. Quick reflexes, she thought, stopping dead in her tracks. Was that what he had meant? she wondered as he displayed the ball high up in the air.

Roger’s head raised and he seemed to access her. “No.” He smiled. “I’m just proving a point.” He paused. “You must be more prepared Daniels because there’s no other way.” Brandi watched him shrewdly, as he turned and rejoined his friends. Her mouth opening as the other boys circled around him and the smile seemed to take up his whole face. When had he become so popular? she asked herself, scratching her head in disbelief.

Feeling an extra pressure to perform, Brandi flexed her arms, after dusting herself off. The wound luckily was still properly covered. Moving her hand away from the gauze, she tried not to think about either the wound or the accident, as her fingers brushed against the pendant and the scene flashed before her eyes.

In her initial fury, she had thought that he had just thrown the ball and hit her. But looking at it now, she realized that the speed of the ball hadn’t been as fast as she had first thought, because he hadn’t thrown the ball crazily. So she could have braced herself to avoid it; or moved a little further off. Except she hadn’t been looking. Only reacting.

Then she remembered Roger’s words: be more prepared, and she focused on them as the scene played again. Now, she saw the trajectory of the arch. Saw how she could have positioned herself, to avoid it altogether, and a smile spread across her lips. He had been hinting at something less peculiar. Preparation. Awareness. And being present in the moment.

Strange. She shook her head, realizing that his sense of perception went further than hers and she wondered why she hadn’t thought about it before. Hadn’t followed her own advice. Instead of simply being reactionary, like during her exchange with Teresa. No, she needed to do more. To look for new opportunities, because seeing beyond required practice. Necessitated, that she do things the right way.

She undid the lock and removed her bike. Wondering where the heck her guardian was as she hopped on and headed home; feeling the now familiar pain returning to her side.

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