I was on my way to the library. My history teacher, Mrs. Benson, had assigned a report on the Hundred Years’ War and I needed extra research materials.
I’d waited until after supper, then I’d grabbed my backpack and car keys and headed out the door. That was one of the convenient things about living with my father; he was usually so absorbed in his school work that he trusted me to decide on my own where I went and how long I was out. It was a freedom I didn’t take for granted.
East Halton’s library was one of the oldest buildings in town, and was surrounded by a beautiful forest. It was especially captivating at this time of year, when the leaves created vibrant pockets of red, orange and gold amongst the emerald of the evergreens. Several trails led out from the library into the forest: one to the school football field, and, in the opposite direction, one that led to the first green of the illustrious East Halton Country Club golf course.
The brick library had served multiple purposes over the years. Large columns and archways lined the entrance, and a big stone staircase led up to the main doors. The windows and doors had stained glass sections at the top that cast a dim colored glow on the walls and floors inside.
When I got inside, the musty odor of old books—one of my favorite smells—greeted me. I drew in a deep breath before crossing the main floor towards the help desk. “Excuse me, would you happen to have Medieval Living & The Hundred Years’ War?” I asked the elderly lady behind the desk. She was the perfect picture of a librarian, complete with gray hair pulled into a tight bun, a lavender crocheted sweater around her shoulders, and a small gold chain that kept her glasses securely around her neck.
“Let me check for you, dear.” She typed the name of the book into the library’s computer system. “We do have it, and it is currently on the shelf. It should be in the history section on the second floor. I’ll write down the book number for you.” She grabbed a sticky note from beside the computer keyboard and jotted a number-dash-letter combination down for me.
“Thank you.” I took the little paper from her.
“The history section is just to the left at the top of the stairs.” She waved her hand toward the wide marble staircase and then went back to sorting a stack of books behind the desk.
After finding the book I was looking for, I scanned the section and chose two more I thought might be helpful. I was just about to leave when I saw a familiar figure pass by my aisle.
“Ethan?” I called his name as loudly as I could, considering I was in a library.
If it was him, he didn’t turn around. Maybe I’m mistaken. I got to the stairs just in time to see whoever it was disappearing up the next flight. I should go. Sign out my books and head home. It had only been three days since I’d vowed to put Ethan Flynn out of my mind, not exactly a good start at moving on if I chased him up a flight of stairs.
I started down towards the first floor again, but curiosity stopped me on the third step. I spun around and bounded upwards. I did a cursory search of the third floor, but there didn’t seem to be anyone on this level, let alone Ethan. When I got to the top floor, I did another quick search. It appeared to be as abandoned as the third floor.
I was about to give up and walk back down the stairs, when I heard the creak of old floorboards near the last aisle. I turned around and took a few tentative steps forward. Suddenly Ethan came barreling around the corner, almost running into me.
“Oh, Hannah.” He stopped abruptly. “I didn’t think anyone else was up here.”
“I thought I saw you, so I decided to come say hi.” My cheeks warmed as I realized I probably sounded incredibly lame.
“That was nice of you,” he replied with a sincere smile that crinkled the corners of his eyes. He seemed a little amused. Had he just chalked me up as another one of his adoring fans?
“What brings you to the library?” I asked as casually as I could. I glanced around the rows of old books, fully aware that we were alone together.
“I was looking for a book to use for that history report Mrs. Benson gave us; how about you?”
“The same.” I held up the books.
“Where did you get those?” Ethan studied the titles with obvious interest.
“The second floor, in the history section.” I lowered the books to my side again.
“I thought the librarian said the fourth floor; I mustn’t have been listening closely enough,” Ethan replied, as we started towards the stairs.
“I can show you where the Hundred Years’ War section is,” I offered.
“That would be great, thanks.” Ethan nodded and we made our way back down to the second floor.
“So how do you like East Halton?” I asked as I led the way to the history section.
“It’s nice, smaller than I’m used to, but not too bad,” Ethan replied.
“Where did you used to live?”
“Lots of places.”
“That’s oddly vague.” I glanced over at him with raised eyebrows.
Ethan laughed. “I guess it is. I’ve just moved around a lot, that’s all.” He shrugged, and then quickly picked a few books off the shelf.
We each checked out the books we’d selected and started for the exit.
“Have you lived here your whole life?” Ethan held the door open for me. The sun had set while we were in the library, and the two of us walked down the stairs towards the lamp-lit cobblestone path that led from the library to the parking lot behind.
“Yeah, pretty much, since I was adopted when I was a baby.” I blinked. Why did I say that?
“Adopted? That’s interesting.”
“I guess. I’ve actually just started looking for my birth parents.” I winced as the words came tumbling out. What’s wrong with me? Why would I share such personal information with this guy I hardly knew?
“Wow. Have you had much luck?” Ethan sounded as surprised as I was that I was being so open with him.
“Not really. I’ve just—”
Ethan suddenly dropped his books and pulled me to his chest. A bright light flashed overhead and the air filled with shards of glass. My heart pounding, I pressed my face against Ethan’s navy shirt. He held onto me with one arm, and covered my head with the other, shielding me from the shower of fragments raining down around us. The incident was over as quickly as it had begun. When I opened my eyes again, I realized we were now standing in a pocket of shadow, and that the oversized lamppost above us had, for some reason, exploded.
“Are you okay?” Ethan’s face was inches from mine while he held his position as my human umbrella.
“I think so.” I glanced up at him and worked at steadying my breathing. My heart beat double time, partly with fear over narrowly escaping a glass shower and partly because of the strong arms that still held onto me. We were so close I could breathe in his scent: woodsy with a hint of soap. Ethan released me and stepped back. Slivers of glass tumbled from his head and shoulders onto the ground around us.
“What just happened?” I tilted my head back to take in the now burnt out remains of the light.
“I have no idea.” Ethan studied the top of the lamppost as well.
“How did you know the lamp was going to shatter like that?” When he didn’t answer, I dropped my gaze to the pieces of broken glass on the ground around us. A stick with a feathered tip poked out
of the grass. “What’s that?”
“A crossbow arrow,” Ethan murmured, as though he was speaking more to himself than me. “I thought I heard a rustling sound. It must have been the arrow flying over us.”
“I just have to say, you have superhuman reflexes. First with the helium tank and now this; you’re going to start to think I’m a jinx.” My voice shook and I pressed my lips together tightly to keep them from trembling as Ethan reached for the arrow. “Hey, you’re hurt!” I pointed to the long, deep-looking gash across his forearm.
He left the arrow and drew back his arm. “It’s not that bad.” He cradled his bleeding arm with the other one.
“Let me see.” I cocked my head.
“Really, it’s nothing.”
“It’s too dark to see anything here. Let’s go to the parking lot.” I started toward my car, glancing back to see if Ethan was following. He scanned the woods as he walked. Should we be concerned about more stray arrows flying in our direction?
Once we were back at my car, I set the library books down on the hood and held out my hand, wanting to investigate his injury; as though I had any sort of medical knowledge to take care of it.
“Hannah, I’m fine, really.” Ethan kept his arm down at his side. I just stared him down until he sighed and held it up so I could see how badly he’d been cut.
“This looks pretty deep. You probably need stitches.” The gash ran about three inches across his forearm and fresh blood seeped across his skin.
“I’ll be fine. I should get it cleaned up though.” Ethan moved towards his Jeep.
I held up a hand to stop him. “Wait. I have a first aid kit.”
Ethan raised an eyebrow. “You do?”
“My friend Katie gave it to me as a joke since I’m sort of clumsy and tend to hurt myself a lot.” Before he could decline my help again, I popped my trunk and pulled out the little white plastic box that contained gauze patches, Band-Aids and rubbing alcohol.
“I think it just needs some gauze,” he said.
“Are you sure?”
“Absolutely.” He took one of the little gauze packets from
me, ripped it open and pressed it against the cut.
“What do you think happened with the light? I mean, a crossbow arrow? That’s pretty weird.” I frowned as Ethan finished up with his arm.
“It is kind of weird, but we are surrounded by forest; maybe it was someone hunting or practicing archery and the arrow ended up off course.”
“Anyway, I need to get going, but thanks for this.” Ethan raised his bandaged arm.
“Thanks for protecting me from the falling glass.”
He nodded with a smile and headed off to his Jeep. “Hey.”
“Yeah?” I had been about to climb into my car but paused when he called out.
“You’re not a jinx.”
“Oh, um, thanks.” Why did that simple affirmation make my face warm?
As I drove away I tried to shake off the strange events that had just occurred. The oddity of what had happened kept nagging at me. I’d almost been filleted by shards of broken lamppost glass caused by a stray crossbow arrow. That was beyond weird, but so was the speed at which Ethan had been able to protect me. I was very glad he had been there to come to my rescue.
My brow furrowed. The more I thought about it, the more I questioned how Ethan had just happened to be there.
It was completely logical that he would be at the library, and yet, as I added this to the growing list of sightings, I couldn’t help wondering why I kept seeing him everywhere. It sounded crazy but was Ethan Flynn following me around? I shook my head.
That was an idea even stranger than anything else that had happened that night.