Rushing home, I pull my Civic into my spot on the three-car driveway and cut the engine. Racing inside and through the double front door, I take the stairs two at a time and run into my bedroom.
I peel off my clothes, switch on the shower, and hop in before the water even gets warm. Between the heat of the day and being pelted by the others with everything conjured from erasers and water balloons to rotten fruit—Ky’s idea of a good item for magical dodgeball practice—I really need a shower.
And I have a plan. If I waste time, I might not go through with it.
Ten minutes later, I’m clean, dressed, and sitting on the edge of my bed, phone in hand. I bounce my knee and stare at the screen.
(Note to self: You dodged fifty knives today. Don’t be a chicken shit.)
Sighing, I pull up a number and tap the call icon. It rings a few times, each separate tone adding the weight of a thousand rocks to my chest. Finally, she answers.
“Hi, Piper.” The rocks turn to bubbles and float away with her breath in my ear. “Uhm, can you talk for a minute?”
She’s silent for a moment, then sighs. “Sure. A minute.”
I check the phone for frost.
The speech I practiced on the way home in my car evaporates and my mind goes blank. Guess Iggy was spot on with his nun comment. I swallow to wet my throat and improvise.
“Well, uhm, Iggy’s having a bonfire tonight and I wondered if you, uh, if you wanted to go. W-with me?” I slap my forehead. In my practice speech, I didn’t give her the option to bow out.
“Ugh,” Piper clears her throat. “I’m sorry. I don’t think that would be a good idea.”
Her words slide into my flesh like every one of those fifty knives hitting their mark.
“Oh, okay, yeah. Yeah. Sure.” I try to think of better words, but the ice in her tone has frozen my brain.
(Note to self: Dumbass. Dumbass. Dumbass.)
“Look. That came out wrong.” She sighs, and the heat returns to her voice. “Really, I just have a ton of work to do for this project to get it started, and well, I’m a little overwhelmed actually. I’m not even sure where to start.”
Okay. That’s better than a total rejection but knowing I’m less important to her than used paper and dirty cans stings, too.
“That’s okay. Uhm, if I can help out just let me know.”
“It’s just that this is really important to me and—” She gives a little laugh. “Jeez, I sound like such a dork.”
“No, you don’t.” And I would know. I lean back against my headboard and stretch out my legs. “I think it’s cool that you have something you believe in to fight for. And you do it so well.”
“My dad doesn’t agree.”
“He just doesn’t care that much, I guess. Thinks it’s silly because it isn’t academic.” Her voice hardens on the last word.
I try to imagine having Mr. Duke as a dad. He’d probably irritate me, too. He is my favorite teacher, but everyone has issues with their parents. Some of us have more of a freak factor to figure in though.
“It seems academic to me. More science-based but you know.”
“Exactly. He only cares about the arts.” Piper snorts into the phone. “That’s why his project is deemed more important.”
“Ah. The new library.”
“So you know about it?” she asks.
“My parents are the realtors for the landowners. They’ve talked about it here before.” Telling her how stoked I am at the thought of a new library is off the table.
“They know the owners?” Piper’s voice bypasses warm and goes right to I-saw-my-favorite-boy-band hot. “Do you know who they are?”
“Uh, no. They’ve never mentioned them by name.”
I frown at the disappointment in her voice. “Why do you ask?”
“Nobody seems to know who owns it. At least, that’s what they all say.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean,” she drops her voice to a low whisper. “Every time I try to ask, nobody remembers. I’ve even tried to look up public records on the computer. Nothing.”
“That’s weird, but not that unusual. Maybe it’s old family land and the records never got put into the data system. Have you looked at the paper files at the courthouse?”
“The file is empty,” she answers.
I shrug. “Maybe the papers got lost.”
“Or maybe,” she says softly, “they were removed.”
“Why would anybody do that?” She makes it sound like there’s a conspiracy in our small town. Those things only happened in books and movies.
(Note to self: Hello? Wizards? Demons? Unicorns?)
“To free up the land for purchase.”
“Are you helping your dad with his project?” If so, I will definitely reconsider Mr. Duke’s request to help.
“No, I’m going to stop him.”
“What?” I sit up straighter in bed. “What do you have against it? The old library is crap. We need a new one.”
“I have nothing against a new library.” She makes a disgusted sound in her throat. “What I do have an issue with is where they want to build it.”
“Why? The land is in a great location. It’s got plenty of space, and a lake, and that great island in the middle of it where they can build a gazebo for events and…”
(Note to self: Shut up Poindexter!)
“That’s the point.” Her voice gets louder. “That land is covered with trees. Trees that would all have to be cut down.”
Ah, the conservationist in her is the real issue here. I try to placate her.
“They’ll plant new ones.”
“It’s not the same. They’ll have to cut down three times as many as they’ll re-plant. And there are tons of animals on that land who will lose their homes.”
“Won’t they just move someplace else.” I smile. “There are other trees in town.”
“For now.” Her breath blows into the phone. “Haven’t you ever heard the phrase, “give them an inch and they’ll take a mile?”
“Sure. I do read.” Hence the desire for the new library.
“If we just sit back and watch corporate America destroy one seemingly insignificant habitat for the sake of progress, before we know it, they’ll have destroyed everything. We have to stand up and fight for the things that can’t fight for themselves.”
“Like rabbits and squirrels?” I say with a smirk.
“Are you mocking me?”
My stomach falls and the shit hole I’m standing in gets deeper.
“Sorry. It was my bad attempt at a joke.” I sigh. “I don’t understand, I guess.”
She’s quiet for a long moment, then she gives a soft laugh. “No, I’m sorry. I get worked up over things like this. It drives my dad crazy.”
I relax back onto the headboard of my bed and try to make up for my ignorance. “If you want, I’ll ask my parents about the owners. Maybe they’ll be able to tell me who they are.”
“God, that would be… that would be great.”
“Why do you want to know?”
“The owners need to fight for their land or it could become public property through the process of eminent domain. The project will move ahead without any hope of stopping it.”
“I know my parents are against the sale of the land. I’m surprised they haven’t told the owners to show up and fight this.” Chewing my lip, I stare at the blue plaid of my blanket. “Who else is trying to stop this project?”
“Mr. Muto, the nursery owner, of course. A couple other shop owners.”
Muto? Was that Ky’s dad?
“Iggy’s dad has been pretty outspoken. He comes to all the meetings. He says his car dealership would be affected the most because the traffic would have to be diverted due to construction.”
I tap my fingers on the bed and wrinkle my forehead in thought. Ky’s family, my family, Iggy’s family. Three magical families trying to halt the project. Can’t be a coincidence.
“Ms. A also wants the library to be built someplace else. She and Dad fight about it all the time.” Piper laughs. “Probably makes for a tense time in the teacher’s lounge at school.”
“Probably.” I laugh with her. Another magical adult. Mr. Duke is tough, but in a fight between the two, I’d bet my life on Ms. A.
I draw a deep breath as Piper again grows quiet.
“Thanks for listening to me, Zaidyn. Dad and I can’t talk about this project without ending up in a huge argument. He’s dead set on this library and that exact location.”
“Has anyone suggested a different location?”
“No. My dad and the city won’t bother to look. But there has to be another option where they won’t have to cut down a single tree.”
“Or displace a single baby rabbit,” I teased.
She laughs. “Nope.”
This time, the silence feels less threatening. Still, it builds, and so does my anxiety. I fought a freaking tiger—sort of—and played the part of a human dartboard. But telling the girl I like how I feel about her makes that all seem like playtime in kindergarten.
“Piper, y—” The words stick in my dry throat.
“I have to go. I think you gave me an idea of how to begin my project. I’ll need to plan it out and…” she laughs. “Anyway, thanks, Zaidyn.”
“Sure, but I really didn’t do anything.” Except help her find an excuse to not go with me tonight.
(Note to self: She didn’t need your help with that.)
“You listened. That’s more than some people have done lately.”
“Anytime.” I take a deep breath. “I guess I’ll see you Monday.”
“Yep. Have fun at Iggy’s bonfire.” Her laugh tinkles through the phone. “Don’t let him burn anything down.”
“I’ll try not to.”
She disconnects and I lean my head back against the headboard. I did it. I talked to her like a normal guy, good moments outnumbering the embarrassing ones. I think.
But you’re still going to a party alone, idiot.
Blowing out a breath, I rub a hand through my damp hair. It’s better than wallowing. I guess. Pushing off my bed, I grab my car keys from my dresser on the way out my door.
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