Beautiful Darkness

Page 28


I stil hadn't talked to Lena. I told myself it was because I was too angry, but that was one of those lies you tel when you're trying to convince yourself that you're doing the right thing. The truth was, I didn't know what to say. I didn't want to ask the questions, and I was scared to hear the answers. Besides, I wasn't the one who ran off with some guy on a motorcycle.
"It's chaos. Dewey decimal is mocking you. I can't even find one almanac on the history of the moon's orbital pattern." The voice from the stacks startled me.
"Now, Olivia ..." Marian smiled to herself as she examined the bindings of the books in her hands. It was hard to believe she was old enough to be my mother. With not a streak of gray in her short hair, and not a wrinkle in her golden-brown skin, she didn't look more than thirty.
"Professor Ashcroft, this isn't 1876. Times do change." It was a girl's voice. She had an accent -- British, I think. I'd only heard people talk that way in James Bond movies.
"So has the Dewey decimal system. Twenty-two times, to be exact." Marian shelved a stray book.
"What about the Library of Congress?" The voice sounded exasperated.
"Give me a hundred more years."
"The Universal Decimal Classification?" Now irritated.
"This is South Carolina, not Belgium."
"Perhaps the Harvard-Yenching system?"
"Nobody in this county speaks Chinese, Olivia."
A blond, lanky girl poked her head out from behind the stacks. "Not true, Professor Ashcroft. At least, not for the summer holidays."
"You speak Chinese?" I couldn't help myself. When Marian had mentioned her summer research assistant, she hadn't told me the girl would be a teenage version of herself. Except for the streaky, honey-colored hair, the pale skin, and the accent, they could have been mother and daughter. Even at first glance, the girl had a vague degree of Marian-ness that was hard to describe and that you wouldn't find in anyone else in town.
The girl looked at me. "You don't?" She poked me in the ribs. "That was a joke. In my opinion, people in this country barely speak English." She smiled and held out her hand. She was tal , but I was tal er, and she looked up at me as if she was already confident we were great friends. "Olivia Durand. Liv, to my friends. You must be Ethan Wate, which I find hard to believe, actual y. The way Professor Ashcroft talks about you, I was expecting more of a swashbuckler, with a bayonet."
Marian laughed, and I turned red. "What has she been tel ing you?"
"Only that you're incredibly bril iant and brave and virtuous, quite the save-the-day sort. Every bit the son you would expect of the beloved Lila Evers Wate. And that you'l be my lowly assistant this summer, so I can boss you around al I like." She smiled at me, and I blanked.
She was nothing like Lena, but nothing like the girls in Gatlin either. Which was in itself more than confusing. Everything she was wearing had a weathered look, from her faded jeans and the random bits of string and beads around her wrists, to her holey silver high-tops, held together with duct tape, and her ratty Pink Floyd T-shirt. She had a big, black plastic watch with crazy-looking dials on the face, caught between the bits of string. I was too embarrassed to say anything.
Marian swooped in to rescue me. "Don't mind Liv. She's teasing. 'Even the gods love jokes,' Ethan."
"Plato. And stop showing off." Liv laughed.
"I wil ." Marian smiled, impressed.
"He's not laughing." Liv pointed at me, suddenly serious. "'Hol ow laughter in marble hal s.' "
"Shakespeare?" I looked at her.
Liv winked and yanked on her T-shirt. "Pink Floyd. I can see you've got a lot to learn." A teenage Marian, and not at al what I expected when I signed on for a summer job in the library.
"Now, children." Marian held out her hand, and I pul ed her up from the floor. Even on a hot day like today, she stil managed to look cool. Not a hair was out of place. Her patterned blouse rustled as she walked in front of me. "I'l leave the stacks to you, Olivia. I have a special project for Ethan in the archive."
"Right, of course. The highly trained history student sorts out the stacks, while the unschooled slacker is promoted to the archive. How very American." She rol ed her eyes and picked up a box of books.
The archive hadn't changed since last month, when I came to ask Marian about a summer job but stayed to talk about Lena and my dad and Macon. She had been sympathetic, the way she always was. There were piles of old Civil War registries on the shelf above my mother's desk, and her col ection of antique glass paperweights. A glistening, black sphere sat next to the misshapen clay apple I made for her in first grade. My mom's and Marian's books and notes were stil stacked across the desk, over yel owed maps of Ravenwood and Greenbrier spread open on the tables. Every scribbled scrap of paper I saw made it feel like she was here. Even though everything in my life seemed to be going wrong, I always felt better in this place. It was like I was with my mom, and she was the one person who always knew how to fix things, or at least make me believe there was a way to fix them.
But something else was on my mind. " That's your summer intern?"
"Of course."
"You didn't tel me she'd be like that."
"Like what, Ethan?"
"Like you."
"Is that what's bothering you? The brains, or is it perhaps the long blond hair? Is there a certain way a librarian should look? Big glasses and hair in a graying bun? I would have thought between your mother and me, we would have disabused you of at least that notion." She was right. My mom and Marian had always been two of the most beautiful women in Gatlin. "Liv won't be here very long, and she's not much older than you are. I was thinking the least you could do would be to show her around town, introduce her to some people your age."