Note: I have changed the year of the 2011 chapters to 2012 for reasons that will make sense later in the story. I am still going through the editing process with much of this, and decided it would make more sense for it to be a year later!
“Not scared not scared not scared…” Bridget repeated as she swung her arms casually, fighting the urge to look backwards over her shoulder at her little sister. She’d show her who was bigger, who was tougher. She was great at looking not scared… well, not really. She could already feel how hot her cheeks were, like they always felt when she had to do something she didn’t want to do, like talk to the class at show and tell or listen to a stupid babysitter.
At the entry to the barn, she stiffened, the silvered wood of the old door framing her in the sunlight, her shadow standing before her, stretching into the darkness inside, her head disappearing in the dim light within. Bridget swallowed. She could feel her sister watching her. She wanted to turn back so bad, so bad, so bad. She wanted to be back with her barbies, and pretty soon Mom would call them in for a snack and would smooth her hair back and kiss her on the forehead. She just had to do this first.
Forcing herself, she began to skip her way inside, steps looping, arms flailing out slightly as she made her way into the darkness. She knew Allison was watching and it would drive her crazy. She might even follow her.
OOooh, Bridget thought she probably would follow her. Once she was deep enough in the shadows that she thought she wouldn’t be seen, she moved as far as she could to her right, sliding into the stippled sunlight that trickled through the ramshackle walls. It helped her see better, being out from under where the metal roof made the shadows so dark. She ran a hand along the wall as she tracked her way back towards the door, keeping out of sight. All she had to do was to get super close to the doorway, and then when Allison came and stuck her head in to watch, she’d jump out and –
Bridget’s ankle gave way. She had half a second to think that it felt vaguely like jumping into fall leaves, only this smelled much, much worse. Then her other foot, momentum already in place to bring it into the next step, sank into the mouldering boards as well, and the tiniest peep of surprise exited Bridget’s lips as she disappeared into the darkness.
Ben’s phone vibrated in his breast pocket. He tilted the phone out slightly and glanced down, seeing the text was from Meg before sliding his hand away. He could find out what she wanted after the meeting. Probably more bad test results, as if that would be a surprise after all these months. She knew this meeting was this afternoon, couldn’t she have waited?
“Something important, Ben?”
He started and looked up, his boss meeting his eyes with a pointed gaze, her brows raised above those clunky “sexy librarian” glasses that didn’t do much at all for an actual librarian, given that she was pushing 70 at least. At this rate, Ben would never get the promotion to library manager he’d been promised when he’d been hired on, years ago. Apparently the woman would never cede control, she disapproved of him too much for that, he thought. Just as she disapproved of every improvement he tried to make to their aging building and the ancient technology it housed. Cell phones, in particular, were one of her major annoyances, and she’d been trying to ban their use in the library for years.
Clearing his throat, he managed, “Ah, no, sorry. Email from a patron. I can take care of it later.”
She sniffed, shaking her head. “As if they couldn’t walk in here and ask their questions at our perfectly good desk. What has happened to old fashioned manners and decency?”
Ben had to hold in his answer. If she had her way, they would still be using a card catalogue instead of the computer system and a reference librarian instead of the internet. Thank god some decisions came from regional and provincial authorities to standardize the patron experience or the place would still be in the stone age.
“Going back to the budget,” he pointed at the paperwork she held, print-outs that, he thought, she probably wished were typed on parchment or something, “You can see what regional headquarters recommends. We have to start replacing this stuff while the grant money is still available. We are so far behind, and –“
Ben’s head dropped at her answer. He could tell he was in for a tirade, and probably not a short one. His mind began to wander as she began detailing the devilry in the internet, the huge danger they were putting people in just by having it here, and on and on. He began to itch to check Meg’s text but didn’t dare. He should have prepped by getting his phone into his lap. The tech purchases at this point would probably go through without Barbara’s approval. The board had already been fielding complaints about the outdated equipment and lack of access, but he’d hoped it would be less dramatic. This would be another tick against him in his year-end review, which would mean less of a salary bump, and probably at least another year before Barbara would agree to retire.
He’d moved from the Calgary library system back when they’d bought the acerage, trying to get away from the mess in the city for the girls best interests. But it had been hell for his career. After the break-up, he’d started looking for jobs back in the city, or at least at other, bigger libraries in the region. Then he’d started looking elsewhere in the province, and even across the country. But all anyone saw was a backwards, country librarian from a backwards, country library run out of a trailer with a leaky roof and a mud parking lot. Everyone wanted people who were up on the latest technology, who could boast of all the great advances they’d made in their library.
He kind of thought Barbara’s hatred probably leaked through into every reference call made to her, too. If any were made, he never knew one way or the other, but after 60 or so attempts at sending out resumes, he’d met Meg, and there was suddenly a reason to stay put again.
Back when he’d first graduated with his library science degree, it seemed like the most stable, easy job in the world. He’d work around books, and not much could be better than that, and at night he’d write best-sellers at home while his wife doted on him and his daughters slept in their beautiful farmhouse. The drop in pay had been okay as their expenses had dropped, too.
But that wasn’t the case anymore. He was still making the full mortgage payments on the house, even though Lisa was supposed to be paying half. He’d caught up her half and paid all the bank fees after they’d threatened foreclosure; as angry as he was at her, he couldn’t let her and Allison end up homeless. Then there were the payments on the condo he shared with Meg, and all their expenses, and the child support, and god the bills were so much higher than he’d thought they’d be when he’d told Meg sure, she could stop working now, because she’d be pregnant soon enough. All he’d thought was maybe this was his second chance, and maybe he’d do things right this time. Sometimes he wished he could just forget that Lisa and Allison existed.
No, he didn’t mean that, he loved his daughter.
But still, he wished he could start over, be 20 again, and choose a different path. Change his major to business or pre-law when his dad threatened to cut off tuition payments if he didn’t choose something “suitable” and “career-worthy” instead of “artsy-fartsy” as dad so eloquently put it. He’d never have met Lisa, maybe, and maybe…
“Mr. Fredericks.” The voice was as sharp as the crack of a ruler on a desk, and Ben’s eyes lifted, startled. “Do we really need to have a discussion on proper meeting etiquette once more?”