Disclaimer: I do not own, nor am I affiliated in any way with TAPS, Ghost Hunters, or anyone involved. THe only things that are mine are my imagination and the ideas that come from it.
By the time we reached the Student Center parking lot, I had gotten myself together. However, Spook’s absence and my tear-stained face told everyone that something had not gone well. It was Amy who broke the uncomfortable silence. “Do I want to ask what happened?”
Jason laughed and rubbed the back of his neck, looking at Grant. “That was probably the most intense roller coaster of a reveal we have ever had. It wouldn’t have been bad at all, except that Dr. Harris showed up uninvited and unannounced.”
“So, who’s Dr. Harris?” Amy asked, obviously the only one in the dark at this point.
“The college president from hell,” Ed, Phil, and Amber said all at once. Amy smirked and nodded her understanding.
Jason quickly related everything that had happened at the reveal, from the mixed responses to both the debunking and the evidence presented to the revealing of what we had discovered about Mary. “Things really got tense when we brought up the fire in the bell tower. Apparently Dr. Harris was the one who put the word out that no one was in the bell tower during the fire. That didn’t sit well with Dr. Cuomo or Dr. Anderson,” he said.
“And then he had the nerve to turn around and tell Spook and me that it was our fault for trespassing in the bell tower,” I added angrily, still seething over Dr. Harris’ superior attitude.
JoEllyn rolled her eyes and replied sarcastically, “Now that’s surprising.”
“Then he asked who let us in there anyway, seeing how that door is always kept locked,” I said, leaning back against the TAPS van. “You should have seen the look on his face when Spook told him Mary Bollinger let us in.”
Phil gasped, “So he does know about Mary!”
“Oh, of course he does,” I responded. “Spook flat out called him one of the ‘let 1954 die party.”
“Oh, no, he didn’t!” Phil exclaimed as Ed laughed out loud and gave a thumbs up.
JoEllyn looked at me curiously. “Where is Spook anyway? Dr. Harris didn’t rip him to shreds and throw him in the garbage, did he?”
Jason and Grant exchanged a look before Jason rolled his eyes and replied, “Well, good old even-tempered Spook went off on Dr. Harris after he had cut down both Amber and Kyr. I’m not even going to repeat all the things that were said.”
Grant continued, “Dr. Harris blew up and told us all to vacate his campus. Then Spook and Jason had words in the parking lot…”
“And Spook and I had words before we got into the van,” I interrupted miserably. “So he decided he’d rather walk over here than get into the van with me.” Phil smacked her forehead and turned away, shaking her head, while JoEllyn gave me a sympathetic glance.
“Boy, when Spook gets on a roll, he gets on a roll,” Amy muttered, also shaking her head. She motioned towards the end of the parking lot. “Oh, here he comes now.”
We all turned to see Spook bounding down the stairs between the residence halls. The storm clouds seemed to have lifted, but his eyes were still dark and moody. As he approached us, he grinned humorlessly and asked, “So, is everyone up to date on what happened at the reveal? Good.”
I looked away miserably, just wanting this day to be over. JoEllyn glanced between Spook and me. She could sense the tension between us. Even though she and I hadn’t had a chance to talk about what happened after Spook and I left the bar together the previous night, I knew she could tell that something had changed between us, and that was making our disagreement even harder on me.
“Well,” Jason said somewhat uncomfortably. “I don’t know how serious the college president from hell was about us clearing out of here ‘within the hour,’ but the mood he was in when he left that room, I don’t think I want to be on the wrong end of that challenge.”
We quickly said our good-byes to Amber, Phil and Ed. Jason and Grant told them to keep TAPS posted about anything else that came up. JoEllyn and I wished them luck with the Paranormal Club, and told them we had some ideas for off-campus investigations.
Next, JoEllyn turned to Jason, Grant and Amy to thank them for coming down to lend their expertise. As she hugged Grant, she said with a glint in her eye, “It was nice…working together. I think we made a great team.” I felt my face flushing as Grant laughed and glanced my way. I tried not to look at Spook, knowing that she was hinting at their matchmaking efforts.
As Jason, Grant and Amy headed towards the TAPS van, Spook shook hands with Ed and Amber. As he shook hands with Phil, she leaned close to whisper to him. He gave her a wry smile and shrugged, trying hard not to look in my direction; I knew she had made a comment about the two of us. I bent down to re-tie my shoe, pretending not to notice.
Spook came over to shake JoEllyn’s hand, but she wouldn’t have any of it. She pulled him into a big hug, saying, “Come here, you big lug.” He grunted and laughed at her exuberance as he returned her embrace. Thankfully, she said nothing about us, although she did smile and wink at him.
She moved towards the car, watching out of the corner of her eye as Spook approached me. “Well, we made it through another investigation without killing each other,” he joked, giving me a tight-lipped smile.
I failed to see the humor in the situation, but I returned his tight-lipped smile and quipped, “Or being killed by a ghost.” A cloud seemed to cross Spook’s face as I thought, why did I say something stupid like that?
Spook extended his hand and said quietly, “Nice working together again, hm?”
After a moment of stunned silence, I took his hand and mumbled, “Yeah, sure, nice working together.”
He turned and started towards the TAPS van as everyone else watched in stunned, uncomfortable silence. With tears starting in my eyes again, I watched him for a moment before walking dejectedly over to JoEllyn’s car.
Just as I reached for the door handle, I was grabbed roughly from behind, spun around and pushed against the car. Before I could even react, Spook brought his lips to mine in a brief, passionate kiss. He gazed at me, his eyes full of tenderness and desire. “You didn’t really think I’d leave us like that, now did you?” he asked huskily.
I smiled dazedly up at him, unable to speak for a second. I whispered, “I hoped you wouldn’t,” and reached up to tangle my hands in his hair and pull him down to kiss me deeply again. I held him as though I’d never let him go, moaning softly with pent-up desire. When he pulled back again, I blurted out breathlessly, “Spook, I love you. I love you so…” My jaw dropped and my face turned crimson as I realized where we were, what we were doing, and what I had just said. I raised my eyes anxiously to Spook’s, afraid to look at his reaction.
He looked at me in wide-eyed surprise for a moment, then grinned and leaned close to whisper, “Kyr, my darling, I love you too.” He chuckled and growled close to my ear, “And if we didn’t have an audience, I’d show you how much right here, right now.”
As I giggled and started to protest, he brought his lips to mine once more and kissed me amid everyone’s cheers. We kissed until Jason laid on the horn and called out, “Hey, Spook, do we need to hose you two down? I’d like to get home and do that with my wife.”
Grant leaned out his window and added, “Yeah, Spook, me too.”
I reluctantly broke away and hid my face in his chest, embarrassed, but unable to stop smiling. Spook held me for a moment before reaching down to lift my cell phone off my belt. “What are you doing?” I giggled as he quickly pushed buttons.
Grinning wickedly, he replied, “I’m giving you my phone number, what else?” He finished and hooked my cell phone back on my belt.
I gave him a wicked look of my own and slowly unhooked his cell phone from his belt. I entered my numbers on his phone and hooked it back on his belt, deliberately brushing my hand along his hip.
Desire darkened his eyes as he took me in his arms again. “You’re making it very hard for me to let you go,” he said suggestively.
“I don’t want to leave you,” I replied, my voice thick with emotion. I slipped my arms around his neck and claimed his lips again.
Jason laid on the horn once more. “Spook, if you’re not in this van in thirty seconds, you can find your own way home,” he shouted.
Not taking his eyes off me, Spook called back, “Or I could just go home with Kyr.” I bit my lip and clung tighter to him; just the thought of him coming home with me made me tingle all over. Chuckling at my expression, he rubbed his nose against mine before kissing me tenderly.
“Suit yourself,” Jason replied, putting the van in gear and slowly pulling away.
Laughing, Spook swore and kissed me once more before dashing after the van. Just as he caught up, Jason stopped and let him in. He called over his shoulder to me, “I’ll call you. Soon.”
“You’d better!” I called back, choking up. I watched them leave the parking lot before climbing into JoEllyn’s car.
JoEllyn and I drove in silence till we got out of Willow Lake and onto the main highway. I could only guess what she was thinking about. My own mind spun with thoughts of the investigation, the whole Mary Bollinger saga, Dr. Harris’ combative attitude, and of course, Spook. Although I was still saddened and more than a bit disturbed that my fond memories of Willow Lake had been tarnished by the dark secrets we had partially uncovered, my heart was brimming with happiness that Spook and I had not only buried the hatchet and become friends, but also had discovered and acted on our growing romantic feelings for each other. The nagging sense of emptiness I had felt just a few days ago was gone, and for the first time in many months, I was actually excited over what the future held.
I smiled to myself as I thought about Spook, and I realized that my lips were still throbbing from his kisses, and my chin and cheeks were slightly chafed from his beard. JoEllyn glanced over and noted my dreamy expression. With a knowing smile, she teased, “Well, I know what–or should I say who–you’re smiling about.” My smile broadened, and I felt the color rising in my cheeks, but I said nothing. She went on, “And to think, when we got here, you only had eyes for Grant WIlson, and now just a few days later, the man you absolutely couldn’t stand is the one you could hardly leave.” She laughed at my sheepish expression. “So, do you still think he’s arrogant and impossible?”
I glanced sideways at her and replied, “Yes.” When she gaped incredulously at me, I continued, “But you were right; he can also be sweet, down-to-earth…and incredibly romantic. And maybe some of what drives me crazy in a bad way also drives me crazy in a good way.”
“Mmm-hmm,” JoEllyn teased, glancing sideways at me. She was quiet for a moment as she took the exit for the road that would take us over Bald Eagle Mountain, then ventured, “Speaking of romantic, you know I’m dying to know, did anything…happen between you two after you left the bar last night?”
I didn’t answer right away; I knew it had been torture for her not to talk first thing this morning, and I still wanted to get back at her for her little matchmaking scheme. Finally, I replied, “Unfortunately, no.” JoEllyn groaned in frustration, and I felt somewhat guilty about not being completely honest with her. I had never been comfortable hearing the intimate details of her love life, and now that I had one of my own–well, sort of–I didn’t want to share the details of mine. Even though I had told her about our first kiss and about what had happened the other night, I felt shy about telling her what had happened last night, namely the most mind-blowing kisses I had ever had. My pulse quickened as I thought about being with Spook in the study lounge, and a delicious warmth spread through me as I remembered snuggling under the covers with him and falling asleep in his arms. I thought to myself, if I felt this amazing after a night of just kissing and cuddling, what would I feel like after…?
JoEllyn eyed me suspiciously; she knew me well enough to know I wasn’t telling her everything. “Really?” she asked, disappointed. “You two didn’t…?” When I shook my head, she groaned, then conceded, “I guess a guy like Spook would be too much of a gentleman to take advantage of you when you’d been drinking.” She took my smile as confirmation, and then raised an eyebrow and pressed, “But what about the other night? Did he tell you why he freaked out and ditched you?”
I winced as she used the same word I had used when Spook and I talked. “Well, as it turns out, he didn’t actually ditch me,” I admitted guiltily. “He got a little carried away with kissing and let things go further than he intended.” I bit my lip and glanced at JoEllyn. “He didn’t want me to think he was after a one-night stand. He also said…” I blushed and looked away. “…He didn’t want our first time to be in a dorm room during an investigation.”
“And what’s wrong with your first time being in a dorm room?” she giggled. I rolled my eyes as I recalled that her first time had been in a dorm room–our dorm room, to be exact–and that I had walked in on them.
I hid my face in my hand and shook my head, knowing that she was remembering the same thing. “I think that’s exactly what he was afraid of–getting caught. Especially by Jason.” I thought about what a disaster that would have been, especially in light of what had occurred during the reveal.
JoEllyn erupted in giggles, laying a hand on my shoulder. “Somehow I thought Spook would enjoy the thrill of the chance that you’d get caught. Judging by his fearlessness during investigations, I took him as being more adventurous,” she teased suggestively.
Her comments jarred my thoughts back to what had happened in the bell tower. Without thinking, I mumbled thickly, “Spook’s brush with death was one of the reasons things got a little out of hand between us the other night.”
Immediately serious again, JoEllyn replied softly, “That really scared him, didn’t it?”
I looked over at her and realized that she didn’t know the whole story. “There was a little more to the story than he let on to everyone else,” I began, then told her that Spook–and I–had almost been hit by a burning beam. I smiled wryly as I finished, “He said he realized how close we’d come to losing each other in that bell tower, and…he couldn’t bear the thought of not knowing if…the spark he had felt between us was real.”
Surprisingly, JoEllyn lost interest in discussing my love life. “That bell tower certainly turned into a hotbed of activity for us, didn’t it?” She glanced at me anxiously. “It wasn’t that active or that…malicious when we were at Willow Lake. Was it?”
“No,” I began nervously, gazing out the window at the mountains in the distance. “What could have happened to stir up this kind of activity?” I wondered aloud. “Certainly the renovations couldn’t have turned a benign spirit into one so malevolent. Could they?”
JoEllyn’s eyes stared straight ahead, but her mind was obviously elsewhere. She replied absently, “I haven’t a clue, but I have a feeling that things at Willow Lake are going to get a lot more intense before this is over, whether or not Dr. Harris acknowledges or approves of it.”
I shuddered, having the ominous feeling that she was correct.
A couple weeks had passed since the investigation, and I hadn’t heard anything either from Jason and Grant or from Ed, Phil, or Amber. I hoped that meant that things had blown over, but Dr. Harris didn’t seem to be the type of perso who would let anything drop. I did, however, hear from Mrs. Rutter, Who emailed me a link (from her personal email account, I noticed) to the Willow Lake Record article about the fire in the bell tower. As we had suspected it would, the article reported that the fire was accidental, started by a lightning strike–which was true, of course–but in the article, Dr. Harris was quoted as saying, “While we are grieved at the damage to the Appleton Hall bell tower, we are truly thankful that no one was in the building at the time, so there were no injuries.” Even though I knew about his claims and expected to see them in the article, I still seethed with anger every time I reread it. Mrs. Rutter also mentioned that repairs were being made to the bell tower, which was not surprising, but also informed me that the bell tower door was now padlocked and hooked up to the campus alarm system when workers weren’t present. Naturally, the reason given for the increased security was the concern over people’s safety while the bell tower was under construction. Of course, I knew that the real reason was that Dr. Harris wasn’t going to risk any more ghost hunters or other trespassers uncovering any more secrets.
Mention of the fire made me think of the fire chief, which then reminded me of Jared. I wondered if JoEllyn had been in touch with him to see if he had any other significant information about Mary. I also suddenly recalled the chief’s remark to Lou that Jared would be wise to keep his mouth shut, as well as his remark concerning Dr. Cuomo’s job if anything came of our investigation. Since Mrs. Rutter hadn’t mentioned anything as significant as Dr. Cuomo leaving, I gathered that her position was safe, at leasr for now. However, I was still concerned for Jared, both for his overall safety, and if Spook was correct, for his job.
I smiled as I thought about Spook. Of course, he had kept his promise and called me. Several times. In fact, before JoEllyn and I had even crossed the mountain on the way home, I had received a text from him just to say he missed me. Then as I crawled in to bed that night, the phone rang; it was Spook calling to say good night. I snuggled under the covers, chatting with him about everything and nothing. We talked until we were both falling asleep. After we had hung up, I drifted off to sleep with my phone in my hand and a smile on my face. I felt like a teenager in love for the first time, still unable to believe we had gotten together.
The one bad thing about being in love–well, except for the fact that he was four hours away–was that I had a hard time getting back into the swing of things at work. I wasn’t ready to declare my changed relationship status to everyone yet, but it was difficult keeping my mind on my work and the stars out of my eyes. Several times during the day, I would catch my thoughts wandering as I reshelved books or as I scanned library materials. However, as we passed the halfway point of summer, I had to give myself a mental shake and get focused on the upcoming fall children’s programs.The beginning of September was Back to School, the end of September was Reading Rangers, and October was the Halloween party, so there was a lot to plan for the kids. In addition to that, Maureen informed us all during our monthly staff meeting that we would also be doing a fall book sale to try to make up revenues lost because of funding cuts.
One week in the middle of August, the library was slower than usual, so I managed to get the preliminary work done for the fall programs. I still found myself with some down time, so Maureen suggested that Dan and I go to the storage room and begin sorting through the boxes and bags of books that had already been donated. I laughed to myself as Dan made a face as soon as Maureen turned her back; apparently organizing other people’s cast-off reading materials wasn’t his idea of an enjoyable afternoon at work. I, on the other hand, was excited to see what treasures awaited us. A couple years ago, I had come across a copy of Salem’s Lot autographed by Stephen King, which I had passed on to my brother Luther.
Dan and I walked back the short, dark hallway to the storage room. I flipped on the light switch outside the room and tried to open the door, but it would hardly budge; something seemed to be blocking it. I moved aside to let Dan try. With a grunt, he gave the door a hefty shove, and it opened just far enough for him to slip inside and move whatever was blocking it. He was barely inside, when he stopped short. “Holy…You’ve got to be kidding me.”
“What’s wrong?” I asked, inching my body around the partially opened door. “Oh…” I said as I saw what he was referring to. To say there was a mountain of books in the storage room would have been an understatement; the room was so jam-packed that there was hardly room to move around. The shelves were lined with rows of books, and stray books were crammed in on top of the rows. Boxes, garbage bags and grocery bags full of books covered almost every inch of floor space, and were piled up higher than my head in a few places. A couple boxes had toppled over, spilling their contents, which was what had been blocking the door. “Where on earth did we get this many books?” I asked in disbelief. The room had been pretty full the last time I had checked a few weeks before, but this was ridiculous.
Dan set the spilled boxes upright again and dumped the books back inside before he replied, “A week ago some guy stopped by with a trailer full of books. Apparently his grandmother’s niece’s brother’s uncle’s friend-in-law twice removed had died, and he got stuck going through the junk left over after all the good stuff was sold from the estate.” He shoved another box out of the way so he could come the whole way into the room. Pointing to the back of the room, he continued, “As you can see by that mountain range over there, the old guy was quite the book collector. He had two entire rooms filled with nothing but books, not to mention what he had scattered around through the rest of the house.”
I turned to look where he was pointing and saw boxes upon boxes all filled to overflowing with books and even magazines. I slowly shook my head, unable to believe anyone could have so many books. As much as I loved to read, I doubted that even I could ever fill two rooms with nothing but books. “Hoarders: The Bibliophile Cases,” I joked, picking up a stack of books and glancing at some of the titles. I didn’t even know where to start. We had less than two weeks before the book sale, and all these books had to be separated into categories. Letting my breath out in a huff, I glanced around helplessly.
Dan leaned against a bookshelf and smirked. “Where do we start, chief?” he drawled.
I walked over to one of the tables, which was also stacked high with books, and stood thinking for a moment. “Tell you what,” I began, grabbing a pile of books from the table. “Let’s take all the books off this table and put them in the empty office for now. That way, we can put some of the sorted books up here.”
An hour later, we had managed to sort through a few boxes each, although with such limited space, it was hard to separate them into any kinds of categories. As I squatted next to a huge box of books, I saw Dan stand up next to the shelves and roll up his sleeves. He had already removed his tie and draped it over a book cart in the corner. His forehead was damp with sweat, and his bangs hung down and stuck to his face. His appearance made me realized how hot and stuffy the room was. A sudden thought occurred to me, and I stood up quickly. “Be right back,” I said. A few minutes later, I returned with the large oscillating fan from the meeting room.I propped the door open and plugged in the fan. “It’s not air conditioning, but at least it’ll circulate the air in here.”
Dan stood in the middle of the room, looking around and shaking his head. “Hey, chief, how about a new plan?” he offered.
I looked up from the books I had just pulled out of a grocery bag. “What do you suggest?” I asked, looking around as well. It sure didn’t seem we were making much progress the way we were going.
He dragged a few boxes out of his way before saying, “I was looking on the shelves, and it seems that these books are all non-fiction; history books are over there, science books are in the middle, and biographies are in the back…”
“They must still be in place from the spring sale,” I mused.
“Most likely,” he responded. “I’m thinking, let’s just get everything separated into fiction and non-fiction first, and then go from there.”
I wiped the sweat off my forehead with my sleeve and looked around the room, nodding. “Sounds like a plan,” I agreed, squinting at the shelves behind me that were mostly blocked by boxes of books. “Now that I think about it, those are probably fiction books back there. So let’s stack the non-fiction books on that side of the room and the fiction books on this side of the room.”
Once we simplified the process that way, things went much more quickly, although we had such an enormous amount of books that it seemed we had hardly made a dent by closing time. After the last patron had left and Maureen had shut down the computers and locked the front door, she stuck her head in the room and looked around, overwhelmed. “How goes it back here?”
Dan and I looked at each other. “We’re making progress,” I replied wearily. “But we’re going to be pushing it to get all these books in some semblance of order before the book sale.
Maureen sighed, shaking her head, and muttered sarcastically, “We really could have done without the donations from the Rissinger Private Collection.”
Dan stood up and grabbed his tie from tje book cart. “You can say that again,” he agreed. “He had some really cool Civil War history books in his collection, but he also had a crapload of outdated science books.”
Maureen groaned, leaning her head against the doorframe. She was a true bibliophile, who hated the thought of throwing any book away, but even she knew that a line had to be drawn somewhere. “It pains me to say it, but I think we’ll set those aside to be recycled.”
I nodded in agreement, feeling her pain, but happy to not have to find space for those. Dan mumbled, “No one will ever miss them, I guarantee it.”
“Unfortunately, I think we may have to put in some evening and early morning hours to get this done,” Maureen grumbled.
Dan and I looked at each other and made a face, knowing that any overtime was likely to be unpaid. A tighter-than-tight budget was the reason we did fundraisers throughout the year, and there wasn’t likely any extra money for overtime pay. Accepting the inevitable, I offered, “Why don’t I come in after supper tonight for a few hours? I’m sure I can get quite a few boxes done.”
“I have a class the next two nights, so I can’t come back in,” Dan said, dumping a few books into a box and sliding it over to the fiction side.
Maureen glanced over her shoulder and added, “I can’t stay tonight either, and neither can Michelle. Kyr, are you sure about coming in here by yourself? I don’t like the idea of anyone being here alone at night.”
I waved her off. “I’ll be fine, Maureen. I’ll be inside, the alarm will be set, and my cell phone is always charged and turned on. Besides, for something like this, I work better alone.” I turned quickly to Dan. “No offense, Dan.”
He laughed, “No sweat, chief. None taken.” Obviously he was glad to be off the hook and was most likely hoping the rest of us could get most if not all of it done in the next two days so that he wouldn’t have to stay late. Dan was a nice guy, and he was really good with the computer system, but he often shirked the more mundane tasks like fundraising.
Maureen finally conceded, so I left the library and headed home to change into cooler, more comfortable clothes and grab a quick bite to eat. A little over an hour later, I headed out for the library again.