The next day looked rather bleak as Natalie woke up. Not only were the skies outside filled with grey clouds, quite unlike the previous evening’s clear, starry darkness, but Natalie faced an entire day in school without Cecily. It made her drag her feet more than usual as she walked towards the school.
Her history class was fine; she was usually on her own there anyway. As her teacher spoke of some great occasion of blood shed, Natalie let her thoughts wander. She thought of the first time the ghost writer had written to her, on her fifteenth birthday, before anything else made its shocking entrance into her life. That had been before Ava, before Cecily and before Ramon.
Natalie sighed softly to herself and once the bell rang, she collected her books and trotted towards math class.
Math class was doubly dull. Not only was it a dull subject in Natalie’s opinion to begin with, but today she had it alone. Before class began, however, a nervous-looking boy tapped her on her shoulder.
“Uh, Natalie Winters?”
He wore glasses that he anxiously pushed back up on his nose, and had mousy hair.
“Yes?” Natalie asked, eyeing him up and down. She did not think she had seen him before.
“I’m Na-Nathan Reynell,” said the boy. He held out a hand that was actually shaking. One of Natalie’s eyebrows rose at the sight of it – was this boy afraid of her, or simply nervous in general?
“It’s nice to meet you, Na-Nathan,” said Natalie, consciously saying his name the way he had presented himself. She hoped her slight smile would calm him.
He looked at her for a few, long seconds, apparently gauging whether she was making fun of him or not. Finally, he offered her a hesitant half-smile. He had to look up at her, because she stood a bit taller than him.
“Was there something you needed from me?” Natalie asked after the silence between them had gone on for a bit longer than necessary.
“Oh, yes, of course,” he mumbled, suddenly becoming animated once more. He rummaged through his bag and came up with two pieces of crumbled paper. “Here. This is—well, Cecily asked me to take notes for her today in class and I though that maybe since you’re her best friend you could give them to her today and she won’t have to miss out on anything more than necessary.”
He stopped to breathe. His cheeks were turning rather red at his inability to keep it short and to the point.
“Thank you,” said Natalie, taking the notes from Nathan. “I’ll see that she gets these.”
Briefly glancing at the notes, Natalie found the neatest notes she had ever seen. There were even different colors used for different sections. Natalie glanced back at the boy. He looked rather too small for his clothes, which only accentuated his shortness. This boy was undoubtedly a nerd.
“I’m sure she appreciates it,” Natalie said.
Nathan turned bright red. “Oh, it’s nothing. I just—she asked me and of course it wasn’t a problem—”
He trailed off and Natalie had to force herself to not chuckle. This boy was not nervous about talking to her – well, maybe a little bit, but it was not all – because she was Natalie Winters, but because she was Cecily Cordell’s friend. The boy before her was, quite undoubtedly, in love with Cecily.
It kept Natalie entertained throughout her math class. She noted that the boy was in fact in the same math class, so she perhaps she ought to have noted his existence before. On the other hand, Nathan said very little and looked as grey as a mouse in the midst of the rest of the students.
Natalie wondered how Cecily would react if Natalie told her she had a not-so-secret admirer. She pondered it for a moment and came to the conclusion that she had not the faintest idea of how Cecily would react. They had discussed a great many things in the last few weeks, but boys had not been a subject. They had both simply had too many things to think about since meeting one another, and besides, the males of the school were most of Eadan’s caliber – egocentric, spoiled, or simply just annoying.
That was something Nathan had going for him – he seemed neither egocentric nor spoiled, and although his nervousness would undoubtedly get on Natalie’s nerves eventually, it was not nearly as bad as Eadan’s boasting or his followers’ blank stares. Nathan seemed more like the studious type, like Cecily, although the very short conversation she had had with him was far from enough to see what he was truly like.
The school day passed without incident. Natalie hardly spoke to anyone – save for a question from Mr. Chen in her fifth period, no one talked to her. Natalie had not made friends outside of Cecily and Ava since coming to Lake Sunflower, and it showed when the two were both gone.
Once the last bell of the day rang, Natalie rushed home. She was only going to dump her bag and then leave for the library, but caught sight of the day’s mail and decided to sort it, hoping for a letter from her grandmother. There was nothing. Of course, she doubted the letter would arrive with the regular mailman – more likely was another wood elf coming to deliver it.
She just placed her hand on the door handle when—
Natalie swirled around, her heart stopping at the sudden sound of someone else’s voice. She recognized the voice, of course.
“You scared me, Ava,” Natalie said, looking rather pasty.
Ava made a face. “Sorry. It’s just hard to announce my presence, seeing how you can’t feel my touch.”
She was standing right next to Natalie, still dressed in the same clothes she had died in; the same clothes she had worn the last time she had appeared before Natalie. She was still a bit see-through – all in all, she looked exactly as she had the last time she appeared before Natalie.
They were silent for a few moments, looking at each other. Natalie finally asked, “Am I to believe that you really are a ghost, then?”
“Wouldn’t it feel better than believing yourself to be insane?” Ava asked back.
“I still might be,” Natalie said, not quite ready to believe in ghosts. “But then again, magic is real so maybe then so are you.”
Ava nodded. “We’re getting somewhere.”
“Fine, we’ll pretend I’ve not gone totally and completely bonkers.” She hesitated. Then she studied the floor and the seconds became minutes. A fly was making its way around the room, hoping for an open window.
“I’ve missed you.”
Ava gave a crooked smile. “Right back at ya.”
Again, the silence between them spread. Natalie wondered at this; she had thought that if she had another chance to see Ava, she would have so many things to say to her, so many things to tell her. Right now, her mind was busy enough trying to wrap itself around the idea that Ava was here, before her, and Natalie could not remember a single thing she had thought about saying.
“Well, I can’t exactly offer you anything to eat,” Natalie said eventually, her voice quiet and hesitating.
This time, when Ava’s eyes glittered, it was actually tears. Natalie wished she could touch Ava. She wanted to hug her tightly and never let go.
“I’m so sorry about what happened,” Natalie whispered.
Ava shrugged, though Natalie could tell that it was not a light one. “I chose to go. You told me not to, and I came anyway. Besides, you weren’t the one who threw me into a wall.”
“No, but I’m the one who should have been protecting you,” Natalie said and she could not help the bitterness seeping into her voice.
They were still standing in the hallway and the guilt lay like a heavy quilt around Natalie. Ava looked as though she was on the verge of speaking but stopped herself at the last minute, several times over. Natalie wondered if she was on the verge of saying that it was not her fault, but could not say it because it was not true. It was Natalie’s slip into Chaos’ powers that forced Ava to focus on Natalie more than Ramon, and Natalie’s loss of powers that had allowed Ramon to break free.
Ava could not say that it was not her fault, because it was.
Ava sighed softly. “Let’s talk about something else. How’s Cecily?”
She could not have chosen a worse subject to switch to. Of course, she did not know of any of the things that had happened since she had died, and Cecily was the one thing Natalie knew anything about. She had no idea how Ava’s family were coping, or any other friends Ava might have had.
“She’s—not good,” Natalie said. She spoke to the floor, rather than the ghost before her, but she could sense Ava’s eyes observing her. “They don’t think she has more than a few months left.”
“Oh,” mumbled Ava, her hand going up to cover her mouth.
“She’s at one of the hospitals right now,” Natalie said. “I don’t know what they’re doing but—tests of some kind.”
“But I thought—after the light and what you did and—I thought your magic would make her better.” Ava obviously had a hard time finding the words.
Natalie’s eyes were filled with pain. “So did I.”
As they stood there, Natalie noticed that Ava was fading slowly, only to come back for a few seconds and then start to fade again. She recalled Ava’s words about not being able to control her visibility very well yet.
“My god,” whispered Ava again. Then she caught sight of her own fading body and her head snapped up to look straight at Natalie. “I have to go.”
“Where to?” asked Natalie.
Ava did not answer immediately. “I don’t know where it is. It’s just—a place. I go there when I’m not here.”
“Are you coming back?”
But Ava faded, just like that, the wall behind her suddenly becoming completely visible once more, before she had time to answer. Natalie could only hope that she was going to appear again. All the things she had forgotten that she wanted to say – I love you, mostly – came back to her as soon as Ava had gone.
She looked at the door. She had been planning on going to the library once school was out. She was not going there for herself; she was going there for Cecily. Perhaps, against all odds, there was something in the old library that could help Cecily – that could save Cecily. Natalie pushed back the doubt into a dark corner of her mind and headed out.
The shadows were starting to grow longer as she made the trek to Lake Sunflower’s old library. It lay in the complete opposite direction from the high school, up on a hill. Beyond it lay the reason for Lake Sunflower’s name – the rather large lake. Some genius back in the day had thought the lake resembled a sunflower, and had thus named the town after it.
The library looked as though it had been there since before the naming of the city; there were greens clinging to every inch of the walls, covering it all the way up to the black roof. Natalie thought it looked rather like an old scary castle out of a children’s novel, with round towers on each side and dark windows.
Natalie pulled the heavy wooden doors open and stepped inside. She seemed to be the only visitor at the moment. It smelled old and dusty inside, and as she spotted the librarian, Natalie wondered, with a bit of a smile, if it the smell came from her or the library itself. The librarian had more wrinkles than a raisin and her hair was nearly white. Her neat, but ugly, shoes clicked against the granite floor as she came to greet Natalie.
“Hello, dear,” she said. “Can I help you with anything?”
Natalie tried her best to smile charmingly. “I’m new here, so I just thought I’d have a look around.”
“Oh! Of course,” said the librarian happily. She only just reached Natalie’s chin; she was tiny. “Have a look around then, have a look around.”
The librarian did, thankfully, not seem to remember that Natalie had in fact been there before.
“That in there,” the librarian said and pointed to the left section of the building, “is the East Wing. You’ll find all the school books there, if you ever need to borrow them. And this,” she pointed to the other side, “is the West Wing, where we keep all of our fictional literature. I promise, you’ll find a favorite in there.”
Natalie smiled once more at the lady librarian. “Thank you. I think I’ll start in here, then.”
“Just shout if you need me, dear,” the librarian said, “and I’ll be there in a jiffy.”
She seemed utterly charming, the little old lady, and Natalie held back a chuckle. Then she headed into the West Wing, remembering the words of the ghost writer. She was supposed to find ‘the shelf closest to the wall’. Looking around the wing, she realized that that was not a very specific order.
There were rows upon rows of book shelves, all filled to the brim with books of all sizes and colors. Some were old and rather dusty, others looked new. However, there were at least four different shelves that were ‘close to the wall’ – it all depended on which wall one meant.
Natalie sighed – she supposed she would have to try them all.
As she positioned her by the closest shelf that was closest to the wall, she wondered about the next step of her instructions – ‘use magic to get in’. Natalie frowned. Was she supposed to say a magic word? Do a spell of some kind? And what was she looking for, anyway?
Pushing her annoyance to the side, Natalie focused on Cecily and wanting to help her – that was, after all, why she was doing this to begin with. She focused on the image of a healthy Cecily, laughing and running around in a field of flowers. She felt the warm feeling of good healing magic flow through her, emanating from the necklace.
She opened her eyes, not sure what to expect.
The shelf before her looked exactly the same as it had before. Nothing had appeared, or disappeared; the books were where they had been before, with the layer of dust on them.
Natalie sighed and moved to the next shelf, on the opposite side. She went through exactly the same process as she called forth her magic, and her necklace glowed softly in the rather dark library. Still, nothing happened.
She wondered if trusting the ghost writer was a good idea or not. Perhaps he, or she, was not someone nice. Then again, the person was trying to help her save Cecily, so there must be some good at least. The person might just enjoy sending her vague clues of what she was supposed to do, so that she felt stupid for a while. The person might find that fun.
Either way, she made her way over to the third corner where the shelf stood close to the walls. It was the darkest of the four, with no window behind spilling light onto the shelf.
Immediately, she sensed something different about it. She was not sure what it was, but there was definitely something. Looking at the books standing on the shelves, she realized that she was, fittingly enough, in the fantasy section. There were a few book she recognized, that she had read when she was younger and she smiled at the fond memories.
Then she focused once more on Cecily and the wish to see her well.She had a feeling that it would work this time.
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