Chapter 5

The Library

Kash stood at the bottom of the curved cement staircase, rehearsing the speech he had sketched out in his mind on the way over.  As he faced the oversized double doors that had welcomed its curious visitors for over 100 years he remembered Amber telling him what a strange, magnetic lure those same doors had for her all of her life.  The red brick, two-story building boasted its time in existence through the original colonial design and proudly displayed the name of its benefactor etched in a granite plaque posted over the doors: Davis L. Graham Public Library.

He felt a twinge of anxiety when he thought about facing Lila again after all these years; especially in her own territory.  Lila was adopted by Amber’s parents three months after they became pregnant with Amber.  She had a naturally kind disposition and a love for beautiful things.  The weight of a good ring on every single one of her fingers was essential for her to live a happy life.  She and Amber were best friends as they grew up.  Seldom did anyone see the one without the other.  She had lived with her parents until they vanished ten years ago.  When Lila heard that Amber got the house in the Will, she refused to live within a mile of either of them.  Kash and Amber had even offered to build her a brand new home of her own at the far end of the property, but, the angry feelings of resentment were already in place.

Kash timidly started up the stairs, trying to remember what Lila looked like so he wouldn’t appear unsure of himself when he met her again.  The last time he saw her she had auburn hair, large, gentle eyes (one blue and one green) that always appeared to be half closed; and a perpetual smile that never left her face.  She was what Amber used to call “a sweet petite!”   She was smart and clever which always intimidated the suitors that came calling over the years and by Ambers’ recollection, there were plenty of them.  Some had become quite prominent citizens in the community and state, like Judge Whipple.  He’d still marry her to this day, but a good book had always been her lover and she had been content to read in her solitude as the years slipped by.  She was highly educated and had accumulated three different advanced degrees by the age of thirty.  Her uncanny knack for details was phenomenal.  Many of the professors in the history department at Benton College considered her a genius and would often request her insight into various events throughout history that were unclear.   The locals teasingly referred to her as “Professor Graham” though she had never officially earned the title.

He swung open one of the big double doors and stepped into the lobby where his eyes lifted towards the small domed ceiling inside.  He had forgotten how exquisite the gold leaf core of the dome was and how richly carved the dark rosewood walls were.   The library was filled with the sweet hint of orange oil that glistened on the walls and mixed lusciously with the smell of a fresh pot of licorice tea steeping in the office.  The round room offered four doorways to choose from.  The door to his left led into a children’s book section with colorful pictures, large letters and simple inspirational sayings thoughtfully placed on the walls to stimulate the imagination of children.  The next door opened into the main part of the library, which was a magnificent two story room.  The wall on the far end was mostly covered by full length windows that rippled with numerous flaws in the handmade panes of glass.  The windows were framed by large wooden staircases on either side that lead to the open balcony above.  A plush, red runner flowed up through the middle of the winding stairs and seemed to call out “come and see.”   The balcony was supported by large, wooden pillars and lined by a beautifully hand carved railing that guarded its patrons as they perused through the many colorful books of all shapes and sizes.  On the main floor there were free standing bookshelves placed strategically through the middle of the great room with tables, couches and a few standing plants scattered amongst them.   The room was well lit by chandeliers and the dark green carpet gave an earthy quality to the room, creating a warm, inviting atmosphere.  The third door was more like a vault and had a locking bolt on it the size of Kash’s arm.  It appeared as though it was part of the original construction that was present the day the building was dedicated over a century ago.  It gave the impression that it was built to keep out giants.  Kash briefly wondered what could possibly be behind a door that would warrant such a huge bolt, and then finally turned his attention to the last door which lead into the librarians’ chamber where he was sure Lila would be.

His throat was dry and scratchy.  He moved hesitantly into the office and stepped up to the counter.   An older, heavy set woman, gnawing on a donut, approached him with her nose still in her book.  Her mousy-grey hair was peppered with strands of auburn remnants of years gone by and her glasses sat on the end of her nose reflecting the reverse image of the words in the book she was reading.

“May I help you?” she said in a hushed, pleasant voice; her face still in her book.

“Yes…thank you.  I’m looking for Lila Graham.  Is…is she here?”  Kash stammered.

“You’re looking at her.  What do you need?”

Kash lost all train of thought and stood silent.  He didn’t even recognize her.  Lila briefly glanced at him over the top of her glasses and returned to her book.  “Well…what do you…”  Her face lost its kindly expression.  She became silent, too.  Slowly lowering her book to the counter, she drew her eyebrows down over the top of her large blue and green eyes like a great, dark wall.  With her head still down, she lifted her gaze directly into Kash’s and said firmly, “Get — out!”

“Lila, I just need a minute of your time.” Kash whispered, rushing his words.  He could see Lila’s face turning a brighter shade of red by the second.

“You’ve got nerve coming in here after all these years,” she said in a low, growling tone.  “If I weren’t trapped here behind this desk with witnesses floating around in the library, I’d be throwing everything I could get my hands on at you right now.”

“Lila, I…”

“Get out, Kash.  We have nothing to say to each other.”  Lila dropped her donut and picked up the biggest book she could lift.  She raised it above her shoulder as if she actually considered risking her position as head librarian to have the pleasure of striking her brother-in-law over the head.

Kash pulled the deed out of his pocket and slammed it down on the counter top.  “The house is yours!” he blurted out as he shielded himself with his other arm in anticipation of being hit.

Lila lowered the book to the counter and reached for the deed.  “Oh, shoot!”  She had accidentally set it on what was left of her donut, making her even more irritable.  She picked up the book, pealed the donut away from the cover and flung it in the garbage.  While she wiped the book off with a tissue she glanced through the document, searching for indications of authenticity.  “Is this real, or just another one of your underhanded lies and what do you want?”

“Yes…no…and nothing,” Kash responded.  “You can move in tonight if you like.  We’ll be gone.”  He realized he was talking without any forethought.  He also realized he was about to miss a golden opportunity to get something out of this rather than just giving up the house.  He lowered his arm, straightened himself up and said softly, “Amber and I have always felt bad about how things turned out with the Will.  We wanted to share the estate with you and now feel like we have a way to do that.  We’ll take the old house on the coast and fix it up for us and you can take the house here in Benton.”

Lila’s body language began to soften and her eyes started to water. She was overwhelmed at such an offer.

“Lila, I…a-a-a…” Kash didn’t know what to say.  Crying women had always made him feel awkward.  He never did know what to do in the presence of a weeping woman.  Unfortunately, he had never had an occasion to practice his ‘sobbing female chit-chat” technique since neither of the women in his life ever cried.  Obviously the house meant more to her than he had realized.  He felt uncomfortable and out of place.

She reached into her pocket and pulled out a lacy, white linen handkerchief and blotted her eyes.  She cleared her throat and asked crisply, “Where’s Amber?  Why isn’t she here to do this?”

“Oh…a…,” Kash was caught off guard by the question and stumbled through his words. “She…uh…uh…is…had to meet with a…a contractor about fixing up the beach house and um….had to leave unexpectedly this morning.”

He could hear for himself how ridiculous he sounded, yet it was the best he could do since he was making it up as he went and had never liked lying anyway.

Lila raised an eyebrow suspiciously.  Her eyes dropped back down at the deed.  “How can I move in tonight if you haven’t even moved out yet?”

Kash swallowed hard as he stalled for time to think. “Um-m…Amber said you deserved everything in the house that Mom and Dad owned since you never claimed anything when your parents disappeared.  After we get the structure secured on the beach house, we’ll find some furniture up there for…and…um…”  He shook his head in frustration.  “We’ll be fine. We’ll pack our clothes and personal belongings and get out of your hair.”

Lila was smart and instinctively knew something wasn’t right, but her desire for the old house was overriding her reason.  “Fine, but this doesn’t mean we’re friends again.  Do you have the keys with you?”

Oh-h-h, no-o-o…”  Kash thought, “This story is getting me into trouble.”  He fumbled through his pockets as if he was trying to find them.  “I guess I left them on the table in my excitement to bring you the news.”

“Likely story,” remarked Lila.  “You’re not telling me the whole truth are you?”

“I assure you that the house is yours, Lila.  If we’re not there when you’re able to come over, I’ll…we’ll leave the keys under the pot on the front porch for you.”

“Alright — I’ll be over later on tonight after I close up the library,” Lila said forcefully.  “Tell Amber I want her to come and see me before she goes.  The library closes at eight.”

Kash was flustered by her final words.  “I …will” he said hesitantly.  “Take care, Lila.”  Kash turned to leave when he heard Lila sniffling quietly behind him as he walked towards the exit.

“Thank you,” she said under her breath, barely loud enough for Kash to catch it.

Kash turned around and caught Lila’s eye.  He smiled, nodded his head as if to say “you’re welcome” and left.
*****************************
“What an idiot!” he mumbled to himself as he bounded out the door and down the front steps.  “That was pathetic!”

ash shoved the car door closed with his foot since both hands were occupied with lunch bags.  When he got to the porch a squeak from the far end drew his attention.  Trevor was stretched out on the swing, leisurely rocking himself.  One foot was propped up on the seat and the other rhythmically pushed away from a tattered travel trunk that sat on the floor in front of him.  It was covered with stickers that represented different countries from all over the world.

“Wow, apparently you’ve traveled a bit.”  Kash said before stuffing the edge of one of the bags between his teeth, freeing up one hand to open the door.

“Yeah!  My dad was in the Air Force.  I grew up all over the world.  I love to travel.”

“Good thing.  You’re going to be doing a lot of that from now on!”  Trevor was puzzled by his comment.  Kash hurried and changed the subject.  “What are you doing out here anyway?  You should be inside helping Mattie!”

“She wouldn’t answer the door, sir.  I rang the bell and called several times.  I thought maybe you both had stepped out to grab a bite to eat or something.”

“Huh…wonder why she didn’t answer the door?”  Kash motioned to Trevor to come in.  He tossed the bags on the coffee table in the living room.  “What do your parents think about you coming with us?” he called back, straight arming the swinging door to the kitchen; holding it open while he listened for Trevor’s answer.

“They were transferred to Germany last year.  I’ve been on my own ever since.”

“That’ll be convenient!”

“Pardon me, sir?”

“Nothing!  Never mind!”  He stretched his neck towards the ceiling, calling out for Mattie to come down for lunch.  He didn’t hear a response so he called out again, “Mattie!  Come and eat!”

“With your permission, Mr. Bott, would it be alright if I check to see if Mattie’s up there?”

“Have you had anything to eat, son?”

“Yes.  Thank you, sir.”

“Her room’s at the top of the stairs.  Tell her I have lunch waiting for her.”

Trevor rushed up the stairs, excited to see her again.  After checking every room on the top floor he returned without her.  “She must be out back.  I’ll check out there.”

“Good idea,” Kash responded as he went back into the kitchen to get some drinks and was reminded of the wall he had left unfinished.  He poured some paint in the pan and thought he’d try to roll a quick coat over the patched area before Trevor came back in.  He could hear Trevor calling for Mattie as he stepped out the back door and moved around the yard.  Trevor headed towards the old shed in the far corner of the property.  Within a few minutes Kash had finished rolling a hasty coat of paint across the new portion of the wall when Trevor burst through the kitchen door.

“I can’t find her anywhere, Mr. Bott.  Could something have happened to her?  She passed out on me yesterday and was disoriented when she came to.  Could she have…”  The expression on Kash’s face stopped Trevor short in mid-sentence.  “What?”  Trevor reacted; his level of panic increasing.   Kash turned pale and plopped down into a chair by the table.  Trevor’s voice grew louder, “What?”

“Oh…my…gosh; she won’t have any idea what happened to her or what to do to get back to us.  How on earth am I ever going to fix this one?” Kash covered his face with his hands.  He was sickened by the realization that Mattie had divvied without an understanding about how it all worked.  She would be caught in a different time frame, within the space of the house, completely at a loss as to what had taken place and what she needed to do to return.  “If I had only taken five minutes to prepare her for this type of catastrophe this would never have happened.  Now I’ve lost them both!”

Trevor was completely confused, which was beginning to be somewhat of a routine for him.  “What do you mean…lost them both?”

Kash could hear the rising alarm in Trevor’s’ voice.  “Think, Kash, think…” he said to himself as he began tapping his forehead with his index fingers.

“What’s going on?  Where’s Mattie?”  Trevor questioned anxiously.

“Give me a minute boy, and I’ll tell you what I can.  Please sit down and be quiet for a while.  I need to think!”

CHAPTER 6

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