Jack leaned down again, matched his breathing to Beth’s.
He leaned closer. He felt his pulse throbbing in his temples. He took her hand in one of his.
He took a deep breath, then pressed his lips to hers.
Electricity seemed to surge, sizzling behind his eyes. His whole body gave a jerk, then went numb.
* * * * *
He came back to himself with a flash. Beth’s hand was squeezing his, his fingers creaking under the pressure. From the corner of his eye, all Jack could see was her eye, huge and green, spun with motes of gold.
Her free hand came up under his chin, and there was another bright flash behind his eyes.
* * * * *
Cool hands were on his cheeks, and he felt a damp cloth on his brow.
He opened his eyes, and there was a pale, blurry face hovering above his, upside down. Two blobs of green sharpened into Beth’s wide, staring eyes, and it took Jack a few minutes to process her upside-down expression. Was it worry? Fear? The brows contracted, the eyes narrowing.
“You’re getting up on your own, John Henry Jacobs,” she said. “I am not returning that favor.”
Jack sat up, watched the room dip and spin. He leaned forward, and his stomach flipped. He took a few deep breaths. He rubbed his jaw, tasted blood. It felt like he’d bitten his tongue.
He felt hands on his arm. “Up,” Beth said.
He stood, blinking. His head felt stuffed with cotton. His ears were ringing.
“Jack,” his mother called. “You slept through breakfast. I can’t drive you this morning, so don’t miss the bus.”
He shrugged into his coat, grabbed his backpack, and paused by the table to finish off his glass of orange juice. The cold of it cleared some of the cobwebs from his head.
“Jack, come on,” Beth said, holding the screen door for him.
He trudged down the gravel path, rubbing his chin. It wasn’t swollen yet, but it sure felt sore.
Every time he looked her direction, Beth blushed, and looked away.
Ellie scampered after them, her braids’ bobbing contained by a pink knit cap that matched her backpack.
Beth squatted down, straightened the cap across Ellie’s brow.
“What are you going to say about this morning to the kids in your class?” she asked the girl.
“Nothing,” Ellie said.
“Right. And the kids on the bus?”
“Nothing,” Ellie whispered.
“Right. And what happens if you do?”
“You’re going to call your daddy and have him put a mummy curse on me and my fingers are gonna shrivel up and fall off.”
“Right,” said Beth, her voice completely level, serious. “If you’re very lucky, that’s all that will happen.”
* * * * *
“But I have books galore at home,” Beth said. “Why are you dragging me here?”
“I can’t believe you’ve been going to school this long and haven’t even set foot in the library,” Jack said. “It just isn’t normal.”
“I disappeared for a week. I walk through your dreams. I have never been ‘normal’”
“Well, I thought you were until eleven days ago.”
He pulled the door open, ushered Beth through.
Mrs. Simms looked up from a cart of books still behind the counter.
“Jack, a cheerful Samhain to you,” she said with a smile. “And who is your friend?”
“Mrs. Simms, I’d like to introduce you to my buried treasure.”
Beth’s jaw dropped open. Her forehead crinkled into a frown.
“What did you call me?”
Mrs. Simms laughed. “Please, dear, don’t take it the wrong way. There is a story there. But first, Jack. Apologize to the young lady.”
“I don’t know of you’d call her a lady if you knew what she did to me this morning,” he muttered, rubbing the purple spot on his jaw.
"You're a fine one to talk!"
“Okay!” he said, holding his hands up as Beth balled her hand into a fist.
He cleared his throat.
“Mrs. Simms, this is Professor Harrison’s daughter, my neighbor, and very best friend who you have been instrumental in restoring to… er… health. I present to you Ms. Aribeth Leigh-Harrison. She and I are both greatly in your debt.”
Jack had taken Beth’s other hand, and held it out to the librarian as he finished his introduction.
“Beth, this is Mrs. Simms, who knows a lot about everything. She helped me find that note that you left me. And then she helped me track down your Sam Hain.”
“A pleasure to meet you, Ms. Leigh-Harrison,” the librarian said, giving Beth’s hand a good shake. “Young Jack here has had quite a bit to say about you, off and on. Knowing who your father is, I can’t say I’m surprised that you wouldn’t want to spend much time here.”
“Please,” the girl said, “call me ‘Beth.’ If you were as big a help as Jack said you were, then I have been remiss in coming here to pick your brain for help in sorting out clues and mysteries of my own. And when my father returns from Peru, I am going to bring him by here to meet you, too.”
“Goodness!” Mrs. Simms always seemed to be smiling, and Jack didn’t think it possible for her to smile any more, but Beth managed that feat.
“Well,” Jack said. “I just wanted to thank you for the help again, Mrs. Simms, and make sure you got to see the fruits of your research in the flesh.”
The bell rang, and the librarian waved as they dashed out the doors.
“You practiced that all morning in your head, didn’t you?” Beth asked him.
“Yes. Yes I did.”
“I don’t think I’ve ever been called ‘buried treasure’ or a ‘fruit of research.’” Beth said.
“Well, now you’ve been called both. In the same day.”
“And… wait, what did you mean ‘your buried treasure’?”