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The Fruit is Sweet

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Matilda meets the Librarian for the first time when she is eight and waiting to be interviewed at a local university in the hopes of taking a class or two there per semester. There is a loud bang from the hallway, and she and Miss Honey jump to their feet as something flutters past, pursued by a man in a tweed jacket.

“Nothing to worry about,” the man calls as he runs past. “Just an original copy of Plato’s Politeia getting a bit rowdy. I’ve got it under control.”

Matilda and Miss Honey exchange looks, and then Matilda darts out into the hallway chasing after him, ignoring Miss Honey’s call of “Matilda, wait!”

She’s fast, but her legs are short, so she only catches up once the man has made an impressive flying tackle and is sitting on the book, scolding it mildly as it struggles to get free.

“Hello,” the man says. “I’m Flynn Carsen, the Librarian.” The book gives a particularly hard jolt, nearly knocking him off, and he wags a finger at it. “Stop that, you’re just making it worse,” he tells it, then looks back up at Matilda. “What’s your name?” he says.

“Matilda,” she says, and she’s having a revelation because up until this moment she hadn’t decided what she wanted to be when she grew up — everything is interesting, how can she pick just one field? — but now she knows for certain that she is going to become a librarian. She wonders if all library books can fly, or if that’s a trait specific to college library books. She certainly never saw the books at the local community library move around unless she was the one moving them, although maybe she just wasn’t looking closely enough.

Mr. Carsen grins up at her. “Nice to meet you,” he says. “If you’ll excuse me for a moment.”

He pulls a needle and thick thread out of a pocket and reaches down to grab the book securely in one hand. “Stop wiggling,” he tells it. “Just let me help.”

The book squirms once more before quieting, and now that it’s stopped moving, Matilda can see where the twine of its binding has frayed. He pats it briefly, and then draws his needle through, quickly and efficiently sewing it back together. “See?” he says. “Good as new.”

It is at this point that Miss Honey shows up, followed by several administrators and members of campus security.

“It’s all fine now, see?” Mr. Carsen holds up the book, which is now dangling limp in his hand, and Matilda nods to Miss Honey enthusiastically. The school officials look confused, but there doesn’t seem to be anything wrong anymore, so they shrug and disperse. Matilda is getting too big for Miss Honey to hold, these days, but she jumps up into her arms anyway, and waves goodbye to Mr. Carsen as Miss Honey carries her back to the waiting room.

“I want to be a librarian,” she tells Miss Honey, who presses a kiss to Matilda’s hair and hugs her close.

***

The next time she meets the Librarian, she’s sixteen and partway through her second PhD program (it turns out that nobody wants to hire a librarian who’s less than eighteen years old, and she needs something to do in the meantime). This time, he’s accompanied by four other people, and it looks like they’re fighting a storm cloud. A tall blonde woman and an Asian boy who doesn’t look that much older than Matilda are shooting some sort of energy weapons at it and dodging lightning bolts, while Mr. Carsen and another man yell at it in a language Matilda can’t quite make out. A gorgeous red-haired woman has her hand outstretched towards the cloud, and Matilda isn’t sure what she’s doing, but it’s making blood drip from her nose.

Matilda drops her backpack and rushes over to stand next to the red-haired woman, stretching out her own hand to swat lightning away from Mr. Carsen and his friends. The woman does a double-take, then smiles at Matilda and continues what she was doing before.

It takes another ten minutes for them to subdue the cloud enough to force it into a jar that Mr. Carsen pulls out of a satchel. The red-haired woman wipes the blood off of her chin while the others stagger over. “I thought you said the storm of Jonah was only going to be a challenge when it was over water,” the boy complains to Mr. Carsen, who shrugs.

“I guess it had a few thousand years to build up strength,” he says, then turns to Matilda. “Hello,” he says. “Do I know you?”

“I met you eight years ago,” she says. “You sewed a book back together.”

He frowns a moment, and then recognition lights up his face. “Yes, I remember you,” he says, and glances between her and the red-haired woman. “It seems you’ve learned some new skills since then.”

“If you’re referring to the deflecting lightning bolts,” Matilda says, “No, I could do that back then too.”

“I see,” he looks at her thoughtfully. “Well, thank you for the help this time around. That’s Cassandra Cillian next to you, and over there are Eve Baird, Ezekiel Jones, and Jake Stone.” He points to them in turn, and Matilda waves.

“Hi, I’m Matilda Honey,” she says.

You’re Matilda Honey?” Cassandra says. “I read your paper solving the Erdős–Hajnal conjecture — it was beautiful.”

“Thank you,” Matilda blushes.

“Wait, no way,” Jake says. “You wrote the most comprehensive article on lexical gaps I’ve ever seen.”

Ezekiel looks around at the rest of them. “Am I the only person who has never heard of Matilda Honey before?”

“Yes,” Eve says, and reaches out to shake Matilda’s hand. “It’s a pleasure to meet you,” she says. “These are the Librarians, and I’m their Guardian.”

“I’m going to be a librarian too,” Matilda tells her, and Eve smiles.

“I have no doubt.”

***

When Matilda is eighteen, she gets a letter in the mail from the Metropolitan Public Library. She pulls a blank piece of parchment out of the envelope, which glows golden and then words engrave themselves on it as she watches. “You have been selected to interview for a prestigious position with the Metropolitan Public Library,” it proudly informs her, and she gasps in delight.

She shows Miss Honey, who grabs her up and spins her in a circle like she used to when Matilda was six and a half years old, and immediately cancels her plans for the day in favor of taking Matilda out to celebrate. They buy a plane ticket to New York for Matilda that night, and it takes all of her self-control not to make the winds blow harder and speed her along. Seven and a half sleepless hours later, she walks up the stairs past the stone lions and through the heavy wooden doors, and is greeted by five smiling faces.

“Welcome to the Library,” Mr. Carsen says. "Are you ready to get started?"