The Angel in the Library

"What have you been reading, Mr. Mittens?" the pale, blonde girl asked, stroking a black cat with white feet.

The cat meowed and scurried off.

The girl sighed, pulling her knees into her chest and curling into her corner on the window sill.

"Apparently, nothing good," she muttered to herself.

Across the library, the girl spotted a book placed precisely on the corner of a desk, as if to give the appearance of neatness. It was fairly thick, red hardback, maybe 600 pages, and its spine wasn't even cracked. Striding over to it, she noticed there was no bookmark, its pages were perfectly aligned, and it still smelled of fresh ink. Most of the books in the library were older and neatly tucked on a shelf, but the old man who visited sometimes must have left it out to be sorted.

"Surely he won't mind if I read it first." she thought aloud.

She curled up in her favorite corner by the window. The book was about a land where the queen was threatened by invaders and spies within her ranks. The only person this queen had to trust was a rogue that her counsel warned her against. She trusted him anyway, and he turned out to be the one to save her several times.

It didn't take long for her to finish, and she gazed out the window at the mountains in the distance, dreaming of the land in the book.

"Is that what it's like out there?" she asked no one in particular, "Are there queens and wizards and rogues?"

"No," a little boy giggled from beside a nearby bookshelf, "there are ordinary people and the president."

The girl looked at the child in amazement. He had curly, brown hair and bright, green eyes. His hands were full of a bundle of books that he was struggling to keep in his arms.

"Did you come from out there?" she asked. "No one visits the library but the old man."

The boy said, "That's my grandpa. And of course I came from outside. I'm visiting my grandpa. This is his library. Do you know him?"

"He takes care of the library, but I've never spoken to him really," she replied.

The boy tilted his head. "That's odd. What's your name?"

"Angel. Yours?"

"Alfy," he said and flashed a toothy smile.

"What's it like outside, Alfy?" Angel asked.

Alfy thought a moment. "I spend most of my time at school or with my family. There are lots of people where I'm from, but around here there aren't many since it's a small town. My sister is mean to me a lot. I like my mom and dad and grandpa though. My friends at school are nice. There's a lot more sky around here than where we are from and a lot less buildings."

"I've read about those things," Angel said, "but I've never seen them. Only the library, the sky, and the mountains.

"Why don't you come outside and see?"

"Oh, I couldn't."

"Why not?"

"I just couldn't."

"That doesn't make sense."

"Of course it does."

"You're scared."

"Am not!"

"Are too!"

"I'm not scared!"

"Then why not go?"

"Because!" Angel clenched her fists, her blue eyes blazing.

Afly smiled again. "That's okay. I'll go with you outside. I'll introduce you to my family. They won't scare you."

He put his books down and offered her his little hand. When Angel didn't take it, he grabbed hers and started tugging her towards the door.

"I really shouldn't!" Angel protested.

"You really should!"

They stumbled out the door and made their way down a long hallway. They reached the foyer, and Alfy shoved the front door open. The sunlight glowed against their faces as they stepped out into the world. Angel marveled at the warmth of the light; it was much more intense when there was no window to filter it.

When Alfy released his grip on her, Angel wandered into the front yard, walking barefoot into the grass. It was damp from morning dew and prickled against her bare feet. She was in awe of each blade, studying them closely. She looked up, and the sky was much bigger when it wasn't framed. As she looked from one horizon to another, she wondered where it ended.

"It's even better than how I read," she said. "It's even better than the window."

"I'm glad you like it," Alfy giggled.

"Alfy!" a woman called in the distance, rushing up to them.

"That's my mom," Alfy told Angel. "I'll introduce you."

When the woman reached them, she grabbed Alfy. "I've been looking for you everywhere. Where have you been?"

"In the library," Alfy responded. "This is my new friend, Angel. She was in grandpa's library. She's never been outside before."

The woman had the same smile as Alfy. "That's nice. I'm glad you made a friend."

"She was scared to come outside, but I convinced her to come."

"That's very nice of you, Alfy," his mother said. "Tell your friend that there are many things to see outside and that they aren't scary at all."

"I will."

"Good boy. Be back at the car in half an hour. We're leaving once we finish unpacking books for grandpa."

"Alright. I'm going to show Angel more of the outside."

"Tell Angel good luck. Stay out of trouble."

Alfy's mother didn't look at Angel even once.

"Did she not like me?" Angel asked.

Alfy shrugged. "She was being a bit weird. Funny that she didn't talk to you. She's usually nice to my friends."

The two of them explored the rest of the yard and the house. When they spent time in the kitchen, Angel examined every item in the refrigerator as if it were an alien. She pulled out a plastic container with leftover fruit salad and marveled at the difference between all the fruits. The bananas were soft, unlike the crisp apples mixed in with them. Alfy explained each kind of berry to her, but she didn't understand why they were all berries when they looked so different. In fact, she didn't understand why they were all fruit when none of them seemed at all alike.

"You haven't even read about them?" Alfy asked.

Angel shrugged. "There isn't a lot of non-fiction in the library, and most of it is about cats."

"I guess that makes sense," Alfy said. "Grandpa likes stories better."

When they were in the family room, they ran into Alfy's sister. She was watching television, and Angel was astounded by the images on the screen. As Alfy laughed at Angel's reaction, his sister threw the remote at him.

"What are you laughing about, loser?" she demanded. "This is my favorite show. That wasn't a funny part."

"Oh no," Alfy said, "I wasn't laughing at the show. I was laughing about Angel."

"Angel?"

"Yeah, she hasn't seen a TV before."

"Who the heck is Angel?"

Alfy gestured to Angel inspecting the television. "My friend right here."

Alfy's sister groaned. "Look, kid. I know you aren't the most popular kid in school, but this is getting out of hand. Imaginary friends are for little kids. You're in first grade now. You can't be doing this. No real people will want to be your friend."

"But she's right here." Alfy said, "She is real."

"I am!" Angel insisted.

"Whatever," Alfy's sister rolled her eyes. "Mom should stop encouraging you. You're such a dweeb."

Dragging his feet a bit, Alfy led Angel out of the room. They made their way back towards the library. In the hallway, just outside the library doors, Alfy's grandpa stopped them.

"Alfy, your mother wants you back at the car in a few minutes. Did you get the books you wanted?" the old man said.

Alfy nodded. "Grandpa, do you know Angel? She's my new friend."

"Hello," Angel said.

"Angel?" the old man echoed.

Alfy sighed. "I don't know why everyone is ignoring her. It's rude."

The old man smirked. "Did you meet Angel in the library?"

Alfy nodded.

"Does Angel like to read my books before I shelf them? Does she like to make sure everything gets put back in order?"

"Of course! They must be neat. Books are precious." Angel said.

Alfy nodded.

"Angel must be my library's spirit." The old man said, smiling, "She has been watching over my library for a long time now. I usually leave her in peace so she can keep reading. Can you see her?"

Alfy nodded again and pointed at Angel. "She's right here."

The old man looked where Alfy pointed. "Then thank you very much for taking care of my books, Angel. We just got more today that I'm sure you'd love to read."

Angel beamed, tearing up a bit. "You're welcome. Thank you for letting me live in your library."