in a Crowded Place
The Truth
The truth was too weird and unbelievable to be the truth.
Heather led them down and out of Spire Hall at an furious pace, pounding down the narrow stairs to the second floor and then the grand staircase to the first floor. Sam followed at a helpless trot.
Heather didn’t even turn her head when Miss Gaskell called out a greeting when they passed. She was marching more than walking, her book bag bouncing this way and that with the force of her steps. Heather hit the big front door of the library with a shrug of the shoulder, like a little football player, so that the heavy door seemed to spring out of her way almost on its own accord.
At the bottom of the steps Heather spun around, hands on her hips. Her eyes were were like beds of smouldering coal, so that Sam imagined that they might actually throw sparks.
“Seriously, Sam,” she snapped. “What’s going on?”
Sam stopped, head bowed. So many contradictory thoughts filled her head that it would have been impossible for her to even think of picking one to put into words. Finally she managed, “I don’t know.”
She ducked around Heather, and swerved off the main path and along one of the narrow strips of lawn between the weedy old gardens that surrounded the library. She could sense that Heather had followed. The quick march had become a subdued retreat. Sam just needed to sit down, block out Heather’s confusion, and think for a minute. She made for the statue of Bartholomew Spire, and then simply ran out of steam and collapsed onto a bench and was barely conscious of Heather sitting down on the opposite end.
“What’s going on?”
Sam tried to fold into herself, legs and arms crossed. She bowed her head and rubbed the back of her neck. The most unbelievable thing to have even happened to her was unfortunately all too believable.
She finally opened up for somebody other than Heather—a boy, even—and he was a dead boy. A ghost. Somebody who’d lived and died probably before she was even born.
She was conscious of Heather glaring at her, but she wasn’t ready to answer the questions. Not yet. She wasn’t ready to tell Heather anything. She wasn’t even ready to believe anything—even though she did believe it.
“I don’t know what’s going on.” She wanted to tell Heather exactly what she’d just learned. There was no way she could tell Heather.
“That was really weird up there,” Heather said. She’d relented a little, her expression softening. “I didn’t like that.”
Something in her tone made Sam look over at her, and she saw that Heather wasn’t really angry. The look on her face was concerned. Maybe scared a little. Sam shrugged helplessly.
“I think he’s a jerk,” Heather announced. “Either he asked you to meet him without telling you when you were supposed to meet him, or else he stood you up. He’s a jerk.”
Sam looked away, her cheeks burning. “I guess so.”
“Look, Sam, I know you don’t like meeting new people. Do you think maybe this guy was being, you know, nice to you? I mean, maybe he just doesn’t care, but didn’t want to hurt your feelings. Maybe he was just letting you down easy.”
Sam shook her head. Heather couldn’t possibly understand. There was no way to tell her what was really going on, and she needed to end this conversation.
She couldn’t tell Heather the truth. There was no way she could ever tell Heather the truth. The truth was too weird and unbelievable to be the truth. Eventually she said, “Maybe that’s it. I don’t know.”
She looked up at Spire Hall, towering before them like a battered cliff. At the big ornate window that filled one of the gables on the third floor she could see Al watching them, but he was too far away for her to read his expression.
Heather took a deep breath, and let it out as a long sigh. “Okay,” she said quietly. Then, a little louder, “Okay. That’s that, then.”
Sam had the sense that Heather didn’t really believe that was that. She was sodden with guilt for not telling Heather the truth.
But for Heather it seemed as if that really was that. She launched herself from the bench and held out a hand to pull up Sam. “Come on. Let’s go.”
Sam paused for a moment before she took Heather’s hand. Whatever Heather thought or believed, she hid it behind a smile. With a wicked leer she said, “Jenny Mayfield told me that Brittany has a crush on Ben Sampson.”
Sam shook her head and broke out grinning—her first real smile since they first sat down on the third floor. “Yeah, right.”
“Serious! I mean, I don’t know if it’s true, but that’s what she told me.”
Sam felt relief flood through her. She didn’t care if Brittany had a crush on Ben—these glimpses into the lives of her classmates were, to her, just part of a long story that Heather told her.
But she knew now that it would be okay with her and Heather.
They walked back to Dunston together, talking about meaningless things. Or rather, they returned to their usual pattern of Heather talking and Sam just contentedly listening.
Sam couldn’t help wondering if something had maybe changed between them that afternoon, that she’d maybe somehow broken the close bond with her only real friend. She ached to tell Heather what she’d really seen, but there was no way to do it.
Deep down she didn’t believe that anything could ever really break the bond between her and Heather, but she wasn’t willing to gamble on it.
What she now believed—now knew—was completely crazy, and she didn’t know if friendships could survive crazy.

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