in a Crowded Place
The Letter
She couldn’t stop thinking about Al Jordan.
She just didn’t know what to make of the whole experience—from the moment of unexpectedly encountering him in the library stacks, to her confused retreat from the third floor after their second meeting. In the end their only connection was a dumb old ghost story.
But it was easier to decide to forget him than it was to actually do. It was especially hard when she was alone with her thoughts of Al Jordan.
Heather knew something had changed, but because she was a very good friend she knew not to talk about it.
After school on the Thursday, nearly two weeks after Al had walked angrily away from her in the library, Heather was trying to convince her to go to a play that the local theatre group was putting on at the Southside Community Centre the following week.
“Come on. It’ll be fun. Seriously.”
“I thought you had to work on Fridays after school.”
It was Sam’s first visit to the library since she’d stormed out on Al and his ghost story—though of course they were on the main floor, which was as far into Spire Hall as Heather would venture. They were ignoring their open math homework, and because it was a beautiful day it wasn’t as crowded as normal. Nobody else from their class was there.
“Mom said it was okay,” Heather said. “You know I don’t have to work all the time. I just try to help Mom.”
“I don’t want to go,” Sam said, “I don’t really feel like it.”
Heather rolled her eyes, teasing. “Oh, right. There’ll be people there. Can’t have that.”
Sam grinned at the way she said it, and blushed a little in spite of herself. “You know I don’t like crowds,” she said. “You go.”
Heather grinned back and shook her head. “No way. I don’t want to go if you don’t want to go. But I guess I have the time off anyway next Friday, so let’s just do something else. Even just hang out at your place, or something.”
Sam was surprised by a surge of warmth, grateful for Heather’s friendship.
Sam didn’t see Al while they were at the library, and she didn’t feel the presence of Bartholomew Spire or any other lingering spirits. The story was dead, and even Al didn’t visit her thoughts quite as frequently.
The last week of the September in which October came early passed into the first week of the real October. Evenings and mornings grew a little shorter. Autumn colour caught full stride in the trees that lined the streets of Southside, and the overgrown grounds of Spire Hall were like a flaming mass of scarlet and gold.
Then on Monday a very surprising thing happened.
Sam had just come home from school after walking Heather to the store, and she wasn’t sure what she was going to do next. Her homework was completely caught up. She still hadn’t finished the Bridge to Terabithia book, though she wasn’t sure that she was in the mood for reading. There was TV, though Aunt Stacie could afford only the most basic cable and that meant that there would be nothing worth watching. Numb boredom had already taken control of her brain when she unlocked the apartment door, and stooped to mechanically collect the clutter of flyers and bills scattered beneath the letter slot.
Nothing of any interest ever came in the mail. There were unbelievable prices on TVs and cars that nobody in Southside could afford, unbeatable cellular rates, and more pre-approved credit than anybody in Southside made in a year. The people who made those flyers must not have known that in Southside most TVs came from pawn shops—or from even more questionable back alley transactions—and not very many people even had mobile phones. Sam tossed the little stack onto the kitchen table, but then something made her take a second look.
The first thing she noticed was a stamp. A real stamp. Frowning, she extracted the envelope from the pile—and was surprised to see that it was an old-fashioned letter, addressed in handwriting and everything.
Even more shocking, it was addressed to her.

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