When Trixie’s school sent home a notice about the upcoming field trip to the L.A. Central Library, Chloe was surprised to find her name on the list of parent chaperones. Trixie offered a somewhat half-hearted resistance before she grudgingly admitted to forging her mom’s signature on the permission slip and checking the box for volunteers. Chloe had the phone in hand, ready to call the school, when her daughter’s earnest “But you love libraries!” caught her attention.
“What do you mean, Monkey?”
“Last summer in Rome. We went to all the libraries and you said you loved the Vatican one best. I remember because it was across the street from my favorite gelato shop, the one with the stracciatella,” she said, with an Italian accent too affected for her ten years.
“I guess I did, sweetheart, but this is different.”
“So you don’t want to go?”
“Oh, it’s not that, it’s just–“ Chloe shuddered at the thought. The last time she was in a library, she was drowning in fear and confusion, struggling to stay afloat in a sea of misinformation. Father Kinley’s ministrations, so comforting at the time, proved more nefarious than anything that Satan himself had said to her. Satan himself. Lucifer. He’s gone. He’s gone because I went to a library. She felt herself pulled downward by the tug of persistent despair once again, only to be brought back to reality by her daughter’s resigned sigh.
“It’s okay, Mom, I get it. Work must be really important.” Trixie turned back to her homework and sighed dramatically before risking a furtive glance at her mother to see if the emotional manipulation was working. Chloe grinned. Between the influence of Penelope and Lucifer, Trixie Decker had become quite the drama queen.
And so it was with no surprise that Chloe found herself in the rotunda of L.A.’s Central Library, looking up at grand murals of whitewashed California history, surrounded by a gaggle of twenty three fourth graders, feeling nauseous with memory and guilt.
For a field trip, the volunteer responsibilities were surprisingly light. Drive a few children, tell them to behave, be present. The docents were happy to take command of the group while the librarians explained the Dewey Decimal System and how books were stored, leaving the parents to quietly gossip in the back of the room.
“I heard Jaydin’s dad got a butt lift last month,” Cayden’s mother whispered, a touch of giddiness in her tone.
“A what?” Chloe answered. She was barely paying attention; her mind had drifted to matters of celestial importance, and petty rumors didn’t make the cut.
“A butt lift. It’s when they—“ But Chloe had already begun to meander down well worn paths, and Cayden’s mother soon tired of the one-sided conversation, leaving Chloe alone with her thoughts.
Since his departure, Chloe had mentally run through her last days with Lucifer ad infinitum . She covered every possible option, examined every flaw, every wrong word, that she could no longer reminisce on that week with anything other than bone crunching regret. Instead, she had begun to focus on the more esoteric aspects of his existence. At this current moment, she was attempting the fool's errand of trying to comprehend Lucifer's age relative to the age of the universe. It was an exhausting task.
Nevertheless, she sauntered on, barely registering the world around her.
After the presentation, the class was let loose in the stacks. Ostensibly, they were to find books for their upcoming social studies research project, but judging by the occasional shrieks and muffled laughter, a game of tag had taken precedence. Chloe ignored her volunteer duties, choosing instead to wander up and down the aisles, her hand gently grazing the spines as she tried to dampen her nerves.
Libraries. She thought. I would be happy to never set foot in a library again.
“Anything I can help you find, dear?”
Chloe jumped. An old woman stood behind her, an expression of light curiosity on her face. From the sensible worn-in shoes to her neat, grey bun, the woman was every inch a stereotype of a librarian, complete with a beaded glasses chain and red, cable knit cardigan. She was either fifty-five or ninety, or somewhere in between, but her lilting, high voice made her seem younger than she appeared.
“No. Thank you. I’m just browsing,” she said, a little too forceful. She'd had her fill of strange people asking if she needed help in vast, old libraries, and she wasn’t about to fall into the same trap twice.
“Are you quite positive?” the woman asked again, her big brown eyes glinting in the fluorescent lights. “You seem a little lost.” And the final word was uttered in such a way that Chloe was sure the woman wasn’t talking about books.
“No, no. I’m very sure. I’m fine.” She raised her hand to protest, but the librarian caught it with a surprisingly strong grip and turned it over to look at the palm. She traced the lines with her index finger, humming a little.
“What the hell?” Chloe tried to pull her hand away but the woman didn’t budge, “Let go of me. Now.” She reached to her waistband for her gun, but didn’t find it. It was in the glovebox, in her car, in the building's garage. Damn . She put everything she had into resisting the urge to punch the woman in the face.
“No need to get excited, just trying to get a sense of the genre,” the old woman replied, as though it were the most obvious answer. “Ah, yes!” She tapped the center of Chloe's palm with satisfaction and grinned at her confusion. “Supernatural romance.”
The woman's grip loosened and Chloe pulled her hand away quickly, holding it to her chest. She could still feel the place where the woman had tapped; it pulsed gently. “What? What do you know?”
The old woman smiled. The smile was good-natured, none of the sad, pained smiles of Father Kinley, designed to elicit pity and fear. This smile was one of genuine enjoyment.
“Oh! It’s been ages since I’ve had a good supernatural romance. Tell me, dear, any specific themes?”
“T-t-themes?” Chloe stammered.
“Yes, themes. Oh my, what are they teaching in school these days? It’s as though none of you ever learned your Jungian archetypes.” She looked Chloe up and down. “Urban Fantasy and Star-Crossed Lovers, I’m sure of it. So that must mean Dramatic Farewells, obviously, but I’m sensing some Duty Over Love and a fair amount of Witty Banter. Does that sound right?”
Chloe nodded her head obediently, too stunned to speak.
“Now, tell me. What have you read so far?”
“Um.” Chloe looked around at the stacks of books around her. “I read the whole Class of 3001 series last year. Some fairy tales with my daughter. And we’ve been reading The Hunger Games before bed every night.”
“Good!” The librarian pushed her round, wire rim glasses up. “A little modern, but a very good start. And you are the heroine, I assume?”
Chloe’s eyes narrowed. “What makes you say that?”
“Why, the stoic sadness, of course. That and your hair. Blond is a bit obvious, if you ask me, and nobody ever does, but it makes for a pretty visual, especially if your hero has black hair. He does have black hair, yes?”
Chloe nodded. The old woman clapped her hands together in delight.
“Excellent!” She gestured Chloe to follow her and began to walk through the rows of books. “You strike me as new to this whole thing, so we need to get you set up with the classics, I think. Austen, the Brontës, Dumas, Tolstoy, Malory, Shelley. Lawrence might work, too, especially for the smut,” she turned and gave Chloe a lascivious wink, “You can thank me later. And Dostoevsky will certainly help clear up some of your Procedural issues, though I’d stay away from The Brothers Karamazov and stick to Crime and Punishment .”
“Goodness, yes! Cases all over the place, solutions far too neat. I would recommend Doyle, but he’s so overplayed lately. Why, just last week I had three separate Holmes-style detectives. Can you imagine? No, no, we wouldn’t want to overcomplicate the narrative. I think Porfiry Petrovich could teach you a thing or two, but we’ll leave it at that.”
She kept a steady pace, weaving in and out of the stacks, Chloe hot on her tail, trying to keep up with the speed and the strange conversation.
“Oh! Shakespeare! How could I forget?” She glanced at Chloe. “You’ve read Shakespeare, yes?
“No. I mean, yes. Parts, a long time ago.” Chloe was almost jogging to catch up. “I’m sorry, but I don’t understand. Who are you? Did Lucifer send you?”
“Lucifer!?” The woman turned on a heel, her eyes magnified to large orbs. Chloe’s heart almost jumped out of her chest. The woman knew Lucifer. “The hero is Lucifer!? Why didn’t you say so?” She tsked and waved her hand dismissively. “So dramatic!”
Chloe couldn’t help herself, she giggled. “He is, isn’t he?”
“And those daddy issues . Did you know he actually invented Drama?” Chloe raised her eyes in disbelief. “This is more dire than I originally realized.” She turned and began walking again. This time Chloe followed without encouragement. “You say you’ve done no research beside a few fairy tales and some YA?”
“I went to the Vatican actually, but I couldn’t find much. The only priest who spoke English gave me a lecture on Latin oration and told me about a prophecy? I don’t know. I was so confused by it all. I think I really messed up.”
“Well, there’s your first problem: You definitely should have consulted a real librarian instead of a clergyman. The Vatican has spent centuries trying to suppress these archetypes rather than explain them.” She turned a corner down a long hallway, their footsteps echoing down the hall.
“But don’t blame yourself, dear. If there was a prophecy, it’s probably self-fulfilling. All the good ones are.”
“You mean it would have happened anyway?”
“Yes. But don’t you worry, you’ll get to sociology and philosophy soon enough. First things first—understanding your arc. And if Lucifer’s the hero, and about time too, you can be damned sure he understands his.” The woman looked over her shoulder with an apologetic smile. “Please excuse the pun, I just can’t help myself sometimes.”
“Oh. It’s okay. Lucifer likes puns.”
“I’m sure he does. Word play and all that. It’s just a tad unprofessional when I indulge.”
The old woman stopped midway down the corridor at a large wooden door with wrought iron detailing and pulled a set of skeleton keys out of her oversized, cable knit cardigan. With a creak, the door opened and Chloe stared.
Inside was a Perfect Library. Gone were the fluorescent lights and metal bookshelves, the sound of screaming children and the buzz of electricity. The cavernous building was softly lit, a long reading table in the center of the room, a skylight perfectly positioned to offer ideal, natural light. Overstuffed velvet chairs in maroon, forest, and rust sat in neat lines in front of the table, and little green-shaded reading lamps created electric bouquets of light down the length. The floor was a dark, polished wood that absorbed sound like a void; the matching wooden bookcases were piled high with cloth and leather bound tomes of various colors, their gilt titles glimmering with invitation.
“It’s beautiful!” Chloe gasped, unwilling to question the logic of its existence. She had become quite proficient at that trick.
The woman next to her beamed. “It is, isn’t it? We’re quite proud of the work we’ve done here. It was a shame to leave Ireland but since Los Angeles is the new capital of dreams and tales, we figured we might as well relocate.”
Chloe cocked her head with confusion. “Ireland?”
“Oh, we still have a branch in Ireland, don’t worry. We’ve also branches in Mumbai, Hong Kong, Mexico City, and Accra. As they say, ‘Plenty of monomyths to go around.’” Chloe had never heard anyone say that.
The woman pulled out the small note card she had been holding. “Now, some quick ground rules. You can only check out five books at a time and only those books within your genre, though, given your crossovers, I doubt that will be a problem. Books are on a strict three-week loan, and the fines are quite steep—best not to discuss them, really, so just return the books in on time. Coffee rings and tear stains are expected, encouraged even, but if a book is badly damaged, it’s quite all right, just report it to a librarian and everything will be taken care of. I think that about covers it. Any questions?”
“How do I, um, is there a key?”
“Ah, yes. Here’s your library card and you can just pop in through the front door. Much more civilized than wiggling through the stacks to find the back entrance.” She handed Chloe a bronze disc the size and shape of a credit card with “Chloe Jane Decker, Heroine – Supernatural Romance & Urban Fantasy” neatly printed on the front.
She looked at Chloe pleasantly. “I am so glad I found you! Next time, let us know you’re coming ahead of time and we can avoid all this idle chit-chat. You’ve got a lot to catch up on.”
The woman turned to go, but Chloe called her back. “Wait, please! I do have one more question.” The librarian turned and gave her a curious glance. “Is he coming back?” She fiddled with the bronze disc in her hands. “I mean, will Lucifer come back? To me?” And, barely audible, she whispered, “I miss him.”
“My child.” The woman smiled softly, her voice kind. “I do not know. Your story has yet to be written. But where there is love, there is hope.” She moved to walk away, but paused and looked back over her shoulder. “But you might try Austen first. Persuasion ? I think you’ll find it a lovely place to start.”
“Thank you,” said Chloe. The weight inside her hadn’t lifted, but it did feel a little less heavy.
“You’re very welcome. If you have any more questions, we are here to help.” The woman turned to walk down an aisle, disappearing from sight, her footsteps fading away into nothingness.
“Hey, Monkey!” Chloe greeted, as the child barreled into her, almost causing the books in her arms to fall. “Having a good time?”
“You’re so right. The library is so much fun! I won tag twice!”
“I’m not sure the library is the best place for tag. Did you find any good books?”
“Tons! How many can we check out?”
“As many you want. I’ve already got mine.” Chloe adjusted the small pile of five books in her arm. She was sure she had spent over two hours picking them out, but when she emerged from the wooden side door she was surprised to find that only 20 minutes had passed. Add it to the list of things she wouldn't think about too much.
“What’d you get?” asked Trixie, tilting her head trying to read the covers, “Lady Chatter’s Love? Ew, Mom, gross!” Trixie made a face and ran off, quickly returning with a foot-high pile of books. “These are mine.”
“Trix, honey, these are all books about whales. Isn’t your project on World War One?” The child at least had the good sense to look slightly ashamed.
“Yeah. But that’s really boring. Whales are way cooler. Besides, I have a science project due in a couple weeks and maybe I could do it on whales?”
Chloe laughed. “Sure, Monkey, let’s get you checked out. Maybe this evening we can go find a gelato shop that has real stracciatella.”
“Mom,” Trixie whined, “It’s stra-chuh-teh-luh, not strach-ee-a-tella.”
It’s a good thing Lucifer’s not around right now, Chloe thought, because then she would have two pretentious children to deal with instead of just the one.
Later that evening, with Trixie upstairs reading ahead in The Hunger Games while pretending to be asleep, Chloe settled in with a glass of wine. The last few months had been Hell—both the oppressive heat and the anguish that sat inside her chest—and these quiet, lonely moments were the worst of it. She had learned to fear them, anxiety building until it was almost unbearable. But tonight was different. She was looking forward to being alone, to reading. Her arc stood out before her, unknowable and unwritten, and there was a freedom in that.
She opened the first page and began to read:
Sir Walter Elliot, of Kellynch Hall, in Somersetshire, was a man who, for his own amusement, never took up any book but the Baronetage...