New York City
Not to be weird about it or anything, but the smell of the library was one of Patterson’s favorite things. If she could bottle up that smell and take it home with her tucked away inside her backpack, she would. As soon as she walked past the iconic lions, through the heavy double doors, and into the cavernous space, the library felt like home. How could it not? Everything in the entire world she might want to know was housed within these walls. Personally, she liked the science section best but enjoyed wandering through all the stacks and just taking in that smell. It was the smell of thousands of books containing millions and millions of facts. She loved it. Today, she wasn’t wandering aimlessly like she had on previous visits. She had a purpose as she strolled towards the science section, lightly running her fingers over the endcap of each stack as she passed.
Patterson slowed as she approached her destination and read the Dewey Decimal labels on the end of the stacks. She expected to find the object of her search in the low 500s. That’s what the card catalogue said anyway. She stopped walking suddenly. Someone sniffled. Sniffed? A runny nose, maybe? It wasn’t quite allergy season. Her own hadn’t started to act up yet. Patterson listened for a moment. Someone was crying. She looked down the row where she stopped. It was empty. She hurried on to the next row and then the next before finding the source of the sound.
A brunette girl who looked to be close to her own age sat at the far end of the row with her back against the wall. Her knees were drawn close to her chin, and a book was open in hands. Tears streaked her cheeks as she cried quietly.
Patterson forgot all about the book she was looking for and made her way quickly towards her. As she approached, Patterson struck by how pretty the girl was. Even with tears streaming down her face and a deep frown, Patterson wasn’t sure she’d ever seen another girl like her before. Her dark hair looked incredibly soft, and she could tell that when she smiled, it was one of the ones that could light up a room. She caught a glimpse of the book in her lap and noticed that it was open to a full-color image of the night sky focused on the Andromeda Galaxy. Pretty and smart!
“Hey, are you okay?” Patterson asked.
The girl on the floor jumped slightly and began hastily wiping her tears away, the book in her lap forgotten as it slid to the floor beside her.
“Uh, yeah,” the girl stammered. “Am I in your way? I’m sorry. I can move.”
Patterson crouched down and picked up the book and handed it back to her.
“Are you sure? You’re crying in the science section of the library,” she said. “This is the best part of the whole library.”
The girl smiled faintly and nodded as she took the book back.
“Sorry,” she repeated. “I’m just hiding out.”
Patterson slid to the floor next to the girl, slipping her backpack from her shoulders and setting it on the floor next to her feet. She rested her back against the shelves and could feel the spines of the books on her own spine. There was something wonderful in that thought.
“I do that sometimes,” Patterson admitted. “I like coming here.”
“Me too. It’s quiet.”
Neither girl spoke for a long moment. Patterson wasn’t really sure what to say. She intruded on a stranger in the library who was crying. She wanted to find out why, she but wasn’t sure if she should ask. It felt rude. Finally, she held out a hand to the girl.
“I’m Patterson, by the way.”
“Patterson? Is that your first name?” the girl asked.
“No, my last. But everyone calls me Patterson.”
The girl took Patterson’s hand and shook it tentatively. She offered her a more genuine smile despite her red eyes and tear-stained face.
“Natasha. Everyone calls me Tasha.”
“Hi Tasha,” Patterson replied. “Are you sure you’re okay?”
Tasha didn’t reply immediately. She gazed down at the book in her hands and closed it. She bit her lip as she thought. Finally, she tucked a strand of hair behind her ear and nodded at Patterson.
“I’m not home,” Tasha said. “That means it’s okay.”
Patterson didn’t know what to say to this. Home was one of her other favorite places. When she wasn’t at the library visiting a book, or studying up on some much too advanced type of math or science, she was at school, challenging her teachers. At home, she was in a world of science. Her mother and father both encouraged her to seize every opportunity, ask every question, and try every experiment no matter how crazy it may seem. She couldn’t imagine ever home not being a safe place.
“Do you need help?” Patterson asked. It sounded like a stupid question but it was the only thing she could think of to say.
“I don’t know,” Tasha said with a short laugh. “Are you magic? Do you have some kind of super powers?”
Patterson furrowed her brow and shook her head.
“No,” she admitted. “I’m just a girl, not a threat.”
Tasha hmmed and looked away from Patterson. She wished the blonde girl sitting next to her was a threat. She needed someone on her side. Every day felt harder than the last, and Tasha was trapped in her battle for another 3,013 days. Then she’d graduate high school, enroll in college, and get away from her mother and her endless stream of boyfriends once and for all. She looked at Patterson carefully and wondered if she’d walked past her before, never noticing her. That seemed hard to believe. Her eyes were like nothing she’d ever seen before, a mesmerizing shade of blue, and Tasha was almost certain she would have noticed her. They didn’t go to school together. Tasha had taken a nearly 40-minute subway ride from her scummy neighborhood out in Hunt’s Point just to get to the library. It’d become her refuge during school breaks and weekends. One look at Patterson told Tasha that the other girl had most likely never even been to the Bronx, and she wasn’t visiting the library as a place to get away from her life. No, they definitely didn’t go to school together. Her eyes glistened with tears again, and she blinked them away but not before one escaped.
“Tasha?” Patterson asked when the brunette didn’t respond. “Are you in trouble or something? Is there anything I can do?”
Tasha looked into Patterson’s eyes. There was something about her that made her want to trust her. She took a shuddery breath as she roughly wiped her tears away once more.
“I come here because it’s safe,” Tasha said. She felt embarrassed by what she was about to say. “My mom drinks. A lot. Sometimes she forgets to pay for food or electricity. My brothers and I... my abuela helps. My grandmother, I mean.”
Patterson nodded. She understood what Tasha was telling her even if she was in disbelief. Her backpack currently contained no fewer than three packages of Gushers fruit snacks, two bottles of Fruitopia, and a roll of Bubble Tape. There were two computers at home. She was positive they were both turned on and using electricity.
“You come here to hide?” she asked.
Tasha nodded and looked away. Patterson couldn’t understand. She looked like she had everything she could ask for. A quick look at the L.L. Bean backpack at her feet told Tasha all she needed to know: Patterson’s family didn’t drink away whatever little money they had and the blonde had probably never stolen anything in her life. She thought about the stolen jar of peanut butter and loaf of bread hidden away in her own ratty backpack. She’d lifted them from a small bodega far from her house – you don’t steal from your neighbors. She felt badly about the theft, but knew that if she didn’t take them there would be nothing to eat until she and her brothers returned to school on Monday.
“Mom’s new boyfriend is at the apartment,” she said offered as an explanation. “He gives me the creeps.”
She wouldn’t tell this girl she just met but her mother’s new boyfriend had been coming around for the last few weeks. He insisted Tasha call him Uncle Andre and when Tasha refused, he’d slapped her across the face before giving her a look that made her skin crawl. He’d licked his lips as he looked her up and down.
If you filled out a little bit, you’d give your mom a run for her money, he’d told her. Maybe I’d take you out for a ride.
Tasha didn’t know what he meant by that, but she didn’t want to find out. She made a point to be anywhere but at home when Andre was around. Her brothers didn’t get the same attention from Andre, and they were able to stay home. They were lucky. Tasha, on the other hand, hid at the library among the astronomy books. She really liked learning about the stars.
She felt Patterson looking at her. A follow-up question was coming, but Tasha didn’t have anything else to say. Before the other girl could say anything, Tasha changed the topic.
“Why are you at the library on a Saturday morning?” she asked.
Patterson smiled as she remembered why she came.
“I’m visiting a book.”
Tasha laughed, her frown disappearing as she temporarily forgot her worries. Patterson was right. Tasha had the kind of smile that could light up an entire room. She wished she’d smile more and frown less.
“Visiting a book?” Tasha teased. “You know you can just check out books and take them home with you, right? It’s allowed.”
“I know, I know,” Patterson said as she got back to her feet. She snatched her backpack up from the floor and slung it over her right shoulder. “This is a special book. Come on. I’ll show you.”
Tasha laughed again. The idea of a special book struck her very funny. She got to her feet and picked up her backpack. She carefully shelved the book she’d been looking at. It wasn’t the first time she read it, and it wouldn’t be the last.
The two girls left the row of books, and Tasha followed Patterson down a few stacks. The blonde scanned the Dewey Decimal labels on the shelves until she found what she was looking for. She grinned broadly and pulled a book free. Patterson turned it to show Tasha the cover: Bill Nye the Science Guy’s Big Blast of Science.
Tasha studied the cover carefully as she tried to decide what the big deal with the book was. It wasn’t like it was a rare book or even an old book. It looked like it was brand new.
“You’re a Bill Nye fan?”
Patterson blushed and turned the book around so she could see the cover again.
“Yeah, sort of,” Patterson said. She pointed the picture of the scientist on the cover. “That’s my dad.”
“Wait. Your dad is Bill Nye? The Science Guy? I thought you said your last name is Patterson,” Tasha said.
“It is. I have my mom’s last name,” Patterson explained. “But yeah, that’s my dad. He just published this book. It’s really cool seeing it at the library. Like kids can come here and check it out. And that’s my dad. I had to come find it.”
Tasha looked at the book in disbelief and the back at Patterson.
“So, you’re like rich?”
“I don’t know,” she said truthfully. “My parents are scientists. I’m just me.”
“And you came here to visit your dad’s book.”
Patterson shrugged again.
“I come here all the time,” she said. “I like books.”
A clock chimed from somewhere nearby and Tasha looked down to the knock-off Swatch Watch her grandmother gave her for Christmas. Noon. Her mother would be leaving the apartment soon to go to work. With a 40-minute ride on the subway back home, she’d be able to get there right after her mother left, and she could make peanut butter sandwiches for her brothers. They could spend the afternoon outside until it was too dark. Maybe they could spend the night at their grandmother’s. She’d ask when she was sure her mother was gone.
“I should probably go,” Tasha said. “My mom goes to work soon, and I have to take care of my brothers.”
Patterson nodded but frowned. She was a little disappointed Tasha was leaving. It would have been nice to spend more time with her. She bet they had a lot in common. Tasha turned and started towards the exit but Patterson called after her.
“Do you come here every day?”
Tasha took the few steps back to where Patterson was standing.
“Maybe I’ll see you around?”
New York City
There were at least a dozen agents standing around the Strategic Information and Operations Center, but no one looked familiar. Tasha didn’t recognize anyone from her class at Quantico, but that was probably for the best. She hadn’t fit in well with most of those brown-nosing “sir, yes, sir,” types anyway. The man standing next to her looked vaguely familiar but he had that same air about him. He towered over her in his three-piece suit. It was buttoned up tight, a tie tucked into a vest. Tasha rolled her eyes and prayed they wouldn’t wind up partnered together. At a glance, she knew everything she needed to know about him: he was strictly by-the-book and had graduated at or near the top of his class. She wagered he specialized as a profiler.
Tasha had spent five years at the NYPD’s 96th Precinct. She probably would have still been there, too, if it weren’t for that one fatal domestic disturbance call. Her partner had been killed, and she knew she couldn’t stay with the NYPD. It was time to move on. She chose the FBI and Quantico. It was just luck that she’d been assigned to the agency’s New York office.
“We’ll make this short and sweet,” a short black woman was saying from the front of the group. She held a hand up to get everyone's attention. “It’s going to be a busy day for everyone so let’s get going. My name is Assistant Director Bethany Mayfair. I run this office. This is Special Agent Kurt Weller. He’s the head of our Critical Incident Response Group. “
Mayfair looked to her left at Weller and then glanced to her right and over her shoulder. She was clearly looking for something or someone. She shook her head slightly.
“I would now introduce you to Special Agent Patterson, the head of our Forensic Science Unit, but it appears Patterson is —”
“Here. I’m here,” a woman’s voice called as a blonde woman hurried through SIOC to stand next to Mayfair. “I’m so sorry. I got busy working on that file you brought me and...Sorry.”
“We’ll talk later,” Mayfair said quietly to the new arrival before turning her attention back to the group of new agents. “This is Special Agent Patterson. As I was saying, she heads our Forensic Science Unit. She is the very best at what she does. You would all be wise to make friends with her.”
Patterson gave a dopey wave and grinned at the agents.
“I like coffee and bourbon,” she joked but fell silent when Mayfair turned her gaze on her again. “Sorry, I’ll just...” she mimed zipping her lips.
Tasha’s heart stopped. It was her. She was sure of it. They’d lost track of one another and it had been at least 10 years since she’d last seen her but Tasha was positive. She’d recognize that smile and those blue eyes anywhere. After all, they’d held her captive from the moment she met her in the stacks at the New York Public Library.
She’d found her again after all these years, but would Patterson even remember her?