The first book on Tamika Flynn's Summer Reading Program Sticker Chart is Lord of the Flies.
She doesn't really like it. Between the stupid boys (all boys, she notes with distaste) who don't even think to eat a pig's head before resorting to cannibalism, and the frustratingly coy descriptions of the cannibalism itself, it mostly annoys her. But Tamika's mom teaches Language and Literature at NVCC, so Tamika has been raised with the knowledge of how to defend herself against librarians, and knows that the Great Western Canon is her best bet in surviving the initial onslaught. She's one of the first kids pulled into the library when the Summer Reading Program begins, but she makes her way to the YA section – calmly and quietly, no running, no shouting, no making a scene. She looks for the first book with the telltale thirty dog-eared copies that mean the book's been assigned to some junior high class in the past. The copy she grabs has a shell on the front cover, which is pretty boring, and then the book is pretty boring too, but at least she reads it fast, before any librarians spot her.
"A timeless classic about the struggle between good and evil in our natures! I liked the parts where the boys were cruel to each other because it showed how kids are cruel, like in real life, because it's just the way humans are!" she cries, holding the book in front of her like a warding-off talisman when the first librarian comes howling for her blood.
The librarian pauses, considering. Then it opens its sharp-toothed maw and a sound issues forth, a terrible sound that makes Tamika want to fall sobbing to the floor, or run away, or scream.
They get you if you scream.
Tamika holds her ground. Her knees only knock together a little. She bites her lip and tries to think of her mom.
She realizes that the sound emerging from the librarian is a question.
"Themes?" it demands, in an elongated, unearthly howl. Its claws click against each other.
"Leadership and the use of power," Tamika replies, and she hopes it doesn't sound like a scream when she says it. "The meanings of empathy and compassion! The strong preying on the weak!"
The librarian bends over her, looming, huge, awful, its eyes white and unblinking behind cute vintage spectacles. For a long moment Tamika is sure that she will be devoured, sent to join the ranks of the Children Who Spill Things and the People Who Highlight In Books. But then its hot breath passes over her, and the librarian retreats. Once Tamika feels herself breathing again she notices a white piece of paper on the floor with her name at the top and a single gold star pressed neatly down next to the words "Lord of the Flies."
Tamika doesn't remember falling to her knees, and doesn't remember starting to cry, but she's sure she only does it for a minute, because she makes herself get up and get moving again as soon as she can. There's no telling how long until the next one shows up, and Golding won't hold them off forever.
The third book on Tamika's Summer Reading Program Sticker Chart is Charlotte's Web.
She likes Charlotte, and cries when she dies, and doesn't get why baby spiders are supposed to make up for that. Also, Tamika's dad inseminates cattle, like, professionally, so she knows all about the Facts of Life and is really unclear on where the baby spiders came from in the first place. Maybe Charlotte ate the daddy-spider; Tamika's mom is always threatening to do that to Tamika's dad.
After she uses Charlotte's Web to defend herself against a librarian – her fourth successful defense, and the first one where she didn't pee herself a little – she's still breathing heavy and shaking when, suddenly, a shape emerges from the darkness. It's a good thing the librarian's already retreated, because Tamika lets out a startled half-scream before she can clamp her hands over her mouth.
The shape turns out to be just a kid after all. Tamika wants to cry in frustration, angry at the kid for sneaking up on her and angry at herself for freaking out.
"You wanna get us devoured or what?" she hisses, and the kid recoils. Tamika feels bad, because actually the kid looks really scared. Tamika's not sure how long she's been in the library now, but this kid must be new, because she can't imagine her fending off a librarian for very long. Tamika sighs.
"Don't you know the strong prey on the weak?" she asks, as the kid creeps toward her again. Now that she's closer, Tamika kind of recognizes her, from school maybe. "Hey, aren't you in Entity Morales's class?" Tamika remembers her now; she was the one who was really handy with the crossbow during the feral dog attack last year.
The kid wipes a tear away defiantly and stands up straight; she's sorta fat and wears big glasses, like Piggy in Lord of the Flies. "Yeah. I'm Beatrice Wong. What did you do to that librarian?"
"That's how you defend yourself."
Beatrice furrows her brow, skeptical. "You yell at them about the value of friendship?"
Tamika rolls her eyes. "No, about books you've read. C'mon, I'll show you."
Beatrice runs her hands through her long hair, pushing it back from her face, and nods once. There's a determined set to her chin that Tamika kind of likes.
The fourth book on Tamika's Summer Reading Program Sticker Chart is The Giver.
The first book on Beatrice's Summer Reading Program Sticker Chart is The Giver.
It's the skinniest book they can find in the YA section, and Beatrice wants to read it, she says, because Lois is her aunt's name, and her aunt is really nice. They read parts of it to each other, whispering together in a corner of the Science section, legs and arms tangled up as they tried to fit themselves into the shadows. Beatrice reads as fast as Tamika does, and she even does pretend voices for the characters. Some of them are so good that Tamika finds herself trying to imitate them when it's her turn to read. When Tamika reads the part about seeing in color Beatrice gasps and claps her hands to her mouth, and Tamika feels a strange sort of pride move through her, to have made Beatrice feel that way just with her voice.
It makes Tamika want to linger over descriptions, or pause to talk about the characters, but that's the kind of thinking that gets people mauled.
Only a few minutes after they finish the last page, the librarian comes for them. Before Tamika can make a move Beatrice is on her feet, book held unsteadily in front of her as she yells about the value of art and creative thinking, about poetry and metaphor and the book's weird, perfect, uncertain ending.
Tamika hates the ending of The Giver. She wants to know what happens. She wants to be certain. She doesn't know if Jonas was right to run away.
The librarian writhes and hisses. Tamika is afraid for Beatrice, but Beatrice plants her feet and stays solid as it swoops over her, just like Tamika taught her.
A moment later she has her brand new Sticker Chart clutched in her hand, her face shining, her hair a tangled mess. Tamika hugs her and hugs her and doesn't say anything.
"I got a gold star," Beatrice says, muffled where her face is pressed into Tamika's arm, and Tamika laughs as quietly as she can.
The seventh book on Tamika's Summer Reading Program Sticker Chart is The True Meaning of Smekday.
The fourth book on Beatrice's Summer Reading Program Sticker Chart is The True Meaning of Smekday.
By the time they finish Bridge to Terabithia (Tamika's sixth book, and Beatrice's third), there are other kids around too, some of them as young as five or as old as seventeen.
Beatrice is really good at explaining how to stop the librarians and making it seem like a fun game rather than a horrifying read-or-die survival tactic, so she's taken over initiating the new ones. Now there are a bunch of kids tearing through Modern Classics of Young Adult Fiction and discussing the themes in preparation for an attack, and their numbers are growing. MacKenzie wears the books she's completed on her chest in a bandolier made of ripped up pieces of a backpack they found on the floor – the last remains of some kid who didn't really like A Wrinkle In Time, people say. David, who insisted on finishing all of Lord of the Rings despite the dangers inherent in committing yourself to a long read, now keeps the three volumes tucked into the back pocket of his wheelchair, ready to be quick-drawn like pistols. Hannah and Noah trade Mercedes Lackey and Tamora Pierce books back and forth, talking about them incessantly, until they know every single detail of all the fictional universes. And Paolo, one of the oldest kids, takes it upon himself to read aloud with the little ones who aren't very good at reading on their own yet, making sure they all have at least one good defensive book – Angela's Airplane, or Zoom!, or A Promise Is a Promise – even though it costs him his own reading time.
"New kid!" Matías announces, and shepherds in a trembling girl, maybe seven or eight, with wild hair and wild eyes. She's clutching a pink Wally the Wraith backpack and obviously trying not to cry.
"Hey, new kid," Tamika says, hunkering down next to her. Tamika's pretty tall for her age, and this kid looks like she's not. "What's your name?"
"Julia," the kid says. She's still trembling.
"Julia. You like to read?" Julia nods. "What do you like to read about?"
Julia blinks. "Magic?" she says, tentatively.
"Okay. Beatrice is gonna set you up with some Harry Potter. You ever read Harry Potter?"
"I saw one of the movies," Julia sniffles. Everyone freezes.
"Julia," Tamika says slowly, once they're sure the librarians haven't picked up their scent, "you have to never ever say that again, okay? It's really important not to talk about seeing movies if you haven't read the books they're based on."
Julia blanches, and Tamika sighs. She reaches out awkwardly and pats Julia's shoulder. "Listen, you'll be fine." Julia doesn't seem comforted.
Beatrice comes over, a battle-scarred copy of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone in one hand.
"It'll be okay," she tells Julia, taking her hand. "Harry Potter is one of the best defenses against librarians."
"It is?" Julia asks. Beatrice nods solemnly.
"We don't know why, but they love it and hate it and fear it. This was my copy when I first arrived."
Julia stops trembling and takes up the book like the weapon it is. Tamika smiles to herself; Beatrice always puts the new ones at ease.
Later on, when Matías is building their shelter for the night – in the periodicals section, out past the New York Times, where there haven't been any librarian sightings in a while – Beatrice comes back to sit by Tamika.
"Get Julia all settled in?" Tamika asks. She's folding them a bed out of their jackets and the cushions they took from the Under-Fives Storytime Corner. Usually she and Beatrice share, ever since that first night together, when Tamika had read aloud from Lois Lowry and Beatrice had clutched her hand tight while the librarians wailed in the darkness.
"Yeah, she doesn't even need much help with the hard words. I think she's gonna be fine. She's tough."
Tamika nods shortly. She's tired of telling Beatrice not to get too attached. They've seen more than one kid lost, swallowed up by the trailing raggedy shadows of librarian cardigans, and it was a lot worse than when Charlotte the spider died, or when Leslie died in Bridge to Terabithia. People die. Friendship doesn't last. Beatrice doesn't seem to get that yet.
"I, I found something for us to read next," Beatrice says hesitantly, and Tamika looks up. Beatrice's round, pretty face is gleaming in the darkness, and she's holding two orange-and-white novels.
"The True Meaning of Smekday," Tamika says, picking it up. She reads the back. "It's about aliens?"
"I think you'll like it," Beatrice says shyly, and Tamika doesn't know what to say. She's never thought of enjoying a library book before, not really. Her mother brought her up to be practical, to know the value of a good book: as a weapon, nothing more. It was the way of literature professors. But –
"It looks like fun," Tamika says, touching the picture of the alien on the cover.
"Yeah," Beatrice says, and smiles.
The tenth book on Tamika's Summer Reading Program Sticker Chart is Ash.
The seventh book on Beatrice's Summer Reading Program Sticker Chart is Ash.
Tamika finds the copies of the book behind one of the librarian's desks, after one of their raids on the librarian's break room. They lucked out on that raid, didn't lose anyone; there was only one librarian guarding the area, and it was driven off by Matías and David each brandishing fistfuls of Roald Dahl. The instant coffee was long gone, but there were still a few candy bars left in the vending machines and an old sandwich at the back of the refrigerator, and they could fill their improvised waterskins at the kitchen sink. Most of the food went to the younger ones, or the ones who'd been here longest.
Tamika tries not to think about food anymore. She's just hungry all the time, to the extent that she wonders whether cannibalism really is an option, or if you can eat librarian after you kill it.
They haven't killed one yet, anyway, so the question is sort of moot.
She and Beatrice each eat half of a half of the stale moldy meat sandwich. Tamika remembers when she used to have several meals a day, or thinks she does. Now it feels like a luxury to eat anything at all. They all consume books instead: voraciously, incessantly, under the flickering fluorescent lights that represent daytime in the library, taking in the words like sustenance, letting their bodies be satiated by good plots and strong characterizations. Tamika sometimes feels like her muscles could run on books alone, if they had to, and if the books were the right books.
It's poetic thinking, wooly and metaphorical, not at all worthy of a literature professor's daughter, but Tamika is starting to wonder if there's more to books than just using them for ammunition in the war against librarians, or using them to indoctrinate and anaesthetize the masses, the way she's been taught.
This one feels good in her hands, smells good even, the way a home-cooked meal does, something appetizing and maybe familiar. There were ten copies stacked up behind the librarian's desk – they weren't out on the shelves for some reason – but she only took two; she wanted this just for her and Beatrice, though she doesn't know why.
"It's about fairy tales," she says, unable to help the note of excitement in her voice as she hands one over to Beatrice. "And two girls who hunt together."
Beatrice grins and adjusts her backpack straps. On the way back to base camp their group is attacked by three librarians working in tandem, and they almost manage to shush little Billy, who's still not great at discussing parallelism, but Beatrice and Tamika step forward together clutching their copies of My Teacher Is An Alien and Things That Go Bump In the Night and between them they manage to scare off all three. They return to camp walking tall, elated, marching at the front of their raiding party and invincible, indestructible, a perfect team.
The eleventh book on Tamika's Summer Reading Program Sticker Chart is The Grapes of Wrath.
The eighth book on Beatrice's Summer Reading Program Sticker Chart is The Trapper's Bible: Traps, Snares, and Pathguards.
"We can't go on like this," Beatrice says, quietly, on the night after they finish reading Ash and are sitting quietly awake while the others sleep. Tamika wishes she could see Beatrice's face, but they have to save the one flashlight they have left for emergency reading; nothing else matters now. Even in the dark, though, she can feel the warmth of Beatrice's arm, pressed against hers, and hear the sound of Beatrice's breathing, slow and steady, a rhythm almost like sleep.
"I've been thinking about that," Tamika returns quietly, the words dragged out of her. She was hoping it wouldn't come to this, but she's pretty sure she's ready. "I've been thinking that we need to start hunting them."
She finds Beatrice's hand with hers and clutches it tightly; it's become a habit, after the long days and nights in the library together, the sensation of skin pressed to skin like an keeping her grounded, like an anchor, so she doesn't float away. Beatrice has soft skin and sweaty palms and sharp strong fingernails, all as familiar to Tamika now as her own skin, her own hands.
"What do we do?" Beatrice asks. Tamika finds her backpack by touch, roots around inside until she finds the right book by weight, by feel, by the smell of the pages and the texture of the cover. She presses it into Beatrice's hands.
"You have to learn to trap them," Tamika breathes, quiet as she can, just in case some of the others are still awake.
But Beatrice is too smart, too voracious, not to see the obvious question, and she's too stubborn not to ask it.
"Tamika," she says slowly, rubbing her fingers over the book. "What kind of bait goes in the trap?"
There's a long pause, so thick that Tamika thinks she could touch it, or take it in like a breath and hold it in her lungs. Then Beatrice shuffles a little closer, putting down the book and taking both of Tamika's hands in hers.
"I'm – I'm starting The Grapes of Wrath tomorrow," Tamika whispers. "I've got a whole list. Grownup books. Books to overpower them with."
Beatrice doesn't speak for a moment, just rubs her thumbs softly against Tamika's hands, as if worrying her way through a problem. "And you think they'll let us go? If we kill some of them?"
"I think they'll let us go if we kill the head librarian," Tamika breathes.
"Okay," Beatrice says, with a note of finality. "Okay, Tamika, okay." There's a moment of tense anticipation, though Tamika doesn't know why until Beatrice leans forward and kisses her. She hits Tamika's cheek first, high up next to her nose, and then corrects – Tamika can feel her correcting, and without thinking she tilts her head forward to give better access – and kisses her on the mouth, full and real, a real kiss, their lips closed and soft.
Tamika's never kissed anybody before, though she's read about it. It's nice. Really nice.
"I – " she begins, and then trails off. In the absence of her words Beatrice kisses her again, quick this time, and then lies down on their makeshift bed.
"Get some sleep," she says, and Tamika knows her voice well enough to know that she's embarrassed, blushing maybe.
She lies down and puts her head next to Beatrice's. She keeps hold of her hand, and they sleep like that, soundly, holding on to one another, waiting for day to break and their long hunt to begin.
The twelfth, thirteenth, fourteenth, fifteenth, and sixteenth books on Tamika's Summer Reading Program Sticker Chart are The Color Purple, The Kite Runner, Giovanni's Room, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, and Cry, the Beloved Country.
The ninth, tenth, eleventh, twelfth, thirteenth, and fourteenth books on Beatrice's Summer Reading Program Sticker Chart are The Art of Big Game Hunting in North America, Guide to Trapping, The Impossible Bow: Building Archery Bows with PVC Pipe, Hunting With the Bow & Arrow, Improvised Hunting Weapons: A Waterproof Pocket Guide to Making Simple Tools for Survival, and Predator Calling: The Guide to Hunting the Hunters.
The first one they take down is caught in one of Beatrice's snares, and though it succumbs to the beating that the others deliver with their improvised clubs, it makes a lot of noise first, horrible and terrible noise, drawing other librarians to the sound.
They learn from that: to build better traps, to sharpen their weapons, to guard the places where the traps are set so that their kills are faster and cleaner. It turns out the librarians aren't edible, all rotten and stinking inside, which is a shame, but it also turns out that they always have half an apple or a bit of a powerbar concealed in the folds of their tweed or tucked into their shawls, so their food supply increases again.
After they kill four or five, Tamika stops going out with the others on the hunts. She sends them on missions, gives them their instructions, and stays with the camp, with her books, desperately absorbing every last detail that she can. She can't let the librarians know her plan, or see what she's reading too soon, but she still itches to stand with the other kids and protect them.
One of the missions goes bad while she's not there and Hannah comes back without Noah, tears streaking through the dirt and sweat on her face. Tamika feels something harden in her heart, determination like stone in her belly.
"Beatrice," she says, calling her away from where she was comforting Hannah. Beatrice comes over, crouches in front of Tamika and waits for orders.
"We're ending this." Tamika wants to cry but her voice is steady, unshakeable. "Tomorrow. Will your traps be ready? Does everyone have a weapon?"
Beatrice doesn't argue, just nods slowly. "I've done the best I could with busted-off chair legs and bits of pipe and clothing," she says, "but everyone's armed, at least. I don't know if it'll be enough."
"It'll have to be," Tamika says. "Call them all together. I'm going to address the troops."
In the end, luring in the head librarian is the easy part. Tamika stands at the center of Beatrice's maze of traps and snares, the one safe spot in a circle of death. The others are all hiding, just outside of where the traps are set, some clinging like monkeys to upper shelves, some crouched low to the rough institutional carpet, some still and silent behind librarian-blinds made of stacked copies of Patricia Clarkson novels. Tamika can't see her army, but she knows the feel of their eyes on her; she can't hear them, but knows that they're all breathing together, slowly, easily. They match their breathing to hers as she checks her books, holsters the ragged knife that Beatrice made for her out of part of an old metal desk, and closes her eyes, just for a moment.
Reaching up, she begins to draw books off of shelves: she dog-ears them furiously, puts them back on the shelves in the wrong places, and leaves them sitting on the floor in the middle of the aisle to be stepped on.
Between two pages of Great Expectations, Tamika squishes in a piece of bubblegum that she's been saving.
The first howling begins almost as soon as she starts, and before long there's a void-colored wave of them approaching, ten or twenty librarians clawing and gnashing towards her, glasses slipping down their faces in their fury. Most of them are caught in Beatrice's traps, and then the battle begins: kids rush out from their hiding places and take on the trapped librarians, paralyzing them with flawless readings of everything from The Borrowers to King Lear and then hacking them, brutally, to pieces. Tamika keeps an eye on the warriors, looking for holes in their defenses.
"Lincoln, Ruby, back in formation!" she yells, as two of the kids get separated from their attack group. They reform hurriedly and manage to defend themselves against the librarian chittering up on their left flank, just in the nick of time.
"Hannah, give David some backup, Tolkien's not gonna cut it against three of them!" Hannah moves at the sound of Tamika's voice, almost before Tamika finishes her instruction, like she's just an extension of Tamika's body, or of their big group body, moving with the force of their collective will.
One of the librarians breaks through the circle of traps and comes for Tamika; it's only a little one, though, and she holds it off with her battered copy of The Giver, which still has a little juice left in it.
She thinks she understands it now, understands how you could want the uncertainty of hope over the certainty of existence. She thinks maybe it's a pretty good ending after all.
The little librarian reels backwards, into the arms of Attack Party 5, who set upon it without mercy. Tamika re-orients her attention to the area outside of the circle of carnage. She's pretty sure she can see, lurking at the back . . . yes, a shape darker, or, or voider than the others, moving more slowly, but huge, looming, horrible.
"The head librarian," she whispers. Then, without remorse, she pulls out a copy of Jane Eyre - a nice, leather-bound copy, early printing – holds it up above her head, and, with a roar of defiance, rips a handful of pages right out of the middle of the book.
As one entity the librarians throw their heads back and scream, a piercing, immobilizing sound that echoes through every cell in Tamika's body. All around her kids fall to the ground, covering their ears, wiping blood from their eyes, as the head librarian turns, so slowly, toward Tamika. It's holding a huge, thick book under its arm, The Anglo-American Cataloguing Rules, and Tamika groans with fear.
"Tamika, look out, it's gonna try to catalogue you!" Paolo cries as he crawls on the floor, grasping for his fallen copies of Unicorn Variations and Nine Princes In Amber.
Tamika keeps her feet, and blinks away the blood, and does it again, tears out another fistful of pages and lets them flutter to the floor, meaningless pieces of paper. She's Leslie, and she's Tip, and she's Ash, and she's Charlotte, and she's Rosasharn; she's Jonas, she's Giovanni, and she's way, way better than Jack or Ralph. She's Tamika Flynn, and her mother is Adelaide Flynn, and she is going to end this.
"Come and get me!" she screams, and then the head librarian is on her, over her, and Tamika is wielding every book she's read against it. She rattles off plots, characters, themes; discusses atmosphere and tone; screams out the meanings of the endings until her voice begins to shake. The head librarian writhes and thrashes in front of her at every description of symbolism, every thoughtful piece of analysis, every critique and every bit of praise.
Just when she thinks she can't do it anymore, when she thinks she's said all she can, she hears Beatrice's voice behind her:
"You've almost got it beat, Tamika, one more!"
And it gives her strength enough to speak again, about the themes of hope and hopelessness that connect all her readings, about the idea that hope can exist in the darkest places, about the idea that the connections between people mean as much – mean more – when under threat.
The head librarian is down, collapsing in on itself somehow as it falls to the ground. With a snarl Tamika leaps upon it and draws her knife in one smooth motion. Beatrice's blade is trustworthy and sharp and before her arm is even tired she's sawn the librarian's head clean off, and she can't help the cry of victory that emerges, full-throated, from her body as she holds it up by the hair.
The remaining librarians scatter, chased off by the jeers of the other kids all brandishing their blood-stained weapons. Tamika grins, and wipes blood from her face, and loves them all.
"Let us go!" she demands, and it's taken up by the others, until they're all chanting it: let us go, let us go, let us go. Then, suddenly, there's the sensation of sunlight on her skin, coming in with the breeze through the open, newly-rematerialized windows that cover the walls of the library.
She savors it just for a moment, eyes closed and mouth open as if to drink in the sunshine, drink in the fresh air; then she wobbles to her feet, picks up her sticker chart – gold stars for every one of her last books, she notices – and stumbles outside with the other children.
She doesn't even notice until later that she's still clutching the head librarian's head by the hair.
She doesn't even notice until later that Beatrice is gone, swept away by her parents probably, lost in the crowd of adults outside who think their children still need the protection of a hug and whispered reassurances. Tamika watches them all torn away from her, one by one – sweet funny Matías with his dad, tough little Julia with her aunt and step-aunt, all of them separated back into their families.
Separated from their family, Tamika can't help but think.
There are adults looking for children who aren't going to come out; Tamika doesn't know what Noah's family looks like, or Paolo's, or Hector's, but she knows that she failed them. She also knows that they wouldn't see it that way, wouldn't see her as responsible, and that makes her angrier than anything else, for some reason.
They were her people.
Tamika's mom is waiting for her, calmly, by the sidewalk. Gently, she takes the librarian head from her, looking it over approvingly. Tamika figures it'll probably get mounted on the wall with the others.
"You did well," Tamika's mom says, and there are tears on her face. "I knew you'd do well."
Tamika holds up her sticker chart, and her mom glows when she sees the reading levels of some of the books. "I'm so proud of you, sweetheart," she says, fiercely. Then she takes Tamika's hand, not noticing or caring about the blood all over it, and starts leading her home. "Your dad's making your favorite. You must be hungry."
"Yeah," Tamika says, distantly. Her whole body cries out at the idea of food – real, solid food – but that concern still seems distant, unimportant. "Mom," she says, slowly, "I really liked some of the books."
"Well," Tamika's mom says, pulling her purse up her shoulder primly. "Well. That happens to us all, Tamika. No harm in enjoying your calling, so long as we keep it quiet." She smiles slyly down at Tamika, and Tamika laughs with the sudden giddy joy of it.
The next day, when they're all back at school, Tamika peeks through the window to look for Beatrice in Entity Morales's class, but doesn't see her. Maybe she sits at the back, Tamika thinks. She thinks this because she doesn't want to think about how she never really saw Beatrice after the librarian attack, how her homeroom class has a bunch of empty desks in it now, how she saw Paolo viciously consumed while he used the last of his LeGuin to protect little Billy. She doesn't think about that all day, all through Double Math and Weird Spanish and Non-Animate Transmogrification. By the time the final bell tolls Tamika is tense, drawn taught like an elastic about to snap, and she springs up out of her seat and runs for the door, runs to the exit and stands, panting, waiting.
Beatrice isn't far behind her. In the daylight, wearing a flower-print dress and a new sky-blue backpack, she doesn't look like Tamika's partner anymore; she just looks like a normal girl, albeit with claw marks scarring the side of her jaw and neck. When Beatrice sees her, she cocks her head and blinks behind her glasses, and Tamika realizes that without librarian blood on her face and shoelaces holding her shirt together she probably looks pretty different too.
"Hey," Beatrice says, walking up to her. She stops two feet away, and Tamika aches to remember how they'd held hands in the dark, breath mingling, pressed close together to remind each other that they weren't alone. She aches, too, to remember waking up at 3am last night, shaking and sweating, and the fear she'd felt when Beatrice hadn't been there at her side.
But then the two feet between them is closing, and Tamika realizes that she's stepped forward, that she's taken Beatrice's hand even without thinking about it. Beatrice beams up at her, and swings their hands back and forth, and then they fall into step together as easy as breathing. As easy as reading.
"Hey yourself," Tamika says, voice cracking. She's hanging on too hard, maybe, but Beatrice doesn't seem to mind.
"So anyway, I was thinking," Beatrice says slowly, "that we should start a book club."