The dreaded sense of getting caught overcame the feeling of guilt.
Alex stuck the book underneath her pillow as her sister Selene walked in the door. “Alex—” she groaned through her teeth. “Hello? I’m sick of waiting. If you’re not down there in two minutes, you’re riding the bus.” She walked over to Alex’s vanity and powdered her cheeks once more before zipping up her backpack. She shot Alex a look of extreme impatience through her reflection.
“Yeah, I’ll meet you downstairs. Two minutes, I promise.”
She scowled at Alex, tossing her newly blow dried hair over her shoulder before walking downstairs. Typical, Alex thought. She released her breath and took the book from her pillow. She hated to hide this secret but she also hated the thought of her newly furnished “Windemere sister” reputation go down the proverbial high school toilet. Selene had made it a point to save her from the bottom of the food chain and allow her to be her protege, but she never hesitated to push Alex aside if for one minute she made her look bad. Ah, the joys of loving sisterhood. Alex wanted to finish it right then and there and fought back and forth with the decision of whether she should bring it to school. Was it worth the risk if someone found out about it?
No, she wouldn’t let that happen.
She sighed, knowing how much it was worth. She stuck it in her bag and ran downstairs.
But as promised, she was one minute too late. She saw exhaust from Selene’s car as she cruised down the neighborhood street. “Thanks a lot, sis,” she grumbled. Now she had to bear the long trek to school on the bus and that meant more talk from the terror known as Brayden Wilkes. She cringed at the thought of him, and when she finally saw him sitting on the stone wall at the bus stop, she nearly regurgitated her breakfast.
“Well, if it isn’t Miss Windemere. Nice of you to grace us with your presence, your Highness,” he teased. Alex turned her back to him and prayed he would just leave it at that. Fortunately for Alex, he was so focused on the conversation with his friend that he left her alone. She let everyone get on the bus before her and took a seat at the very front where no one else dared to sit. She pulled out the book with careful silence. Her fingertips traced the letters of the cover title:
The Baker Street Club
Writer: Mortimus Sinclair
It was no mere coincidence that Alex came into the company of this particular comic book. She had merely distanced herself away from Selene and her friends at a coffee shop, and while Alex tried to fit into their group of sheep by opening up a glamour magazine, a thin book of paper came sliding out onto her lap. Issue One of the Incredible Baker Street Club. She was always a fan of mysteries and the depiction of Sherlock Holmes as a powerful yet scarred woman made her devour each sentence of bubbled dialogue. The story told of a secret band of mystery solvers and crime busters from generations of literature, fighting against an evil band of villains throughout time. Sherlock was their leader and club members consisted of Nancy Drew, Dr. Jekyll and Jim Hawkins to name a few. Alex tried to distract herself with more mundane things, but nothing seemed to quench her thirst for it. She hunted for the following issues in secret ever since then. But since comics weren’t seen as what her sister and the other cool girls did, she mentioned no word of it to her sister. She would undoubtedly destroy Alex with the flutter of an eyelash.
The bus lurched to a stop. Alex stuffed the book into her binder and ran off the bus before anybody could even guess that she was on. She looked across the courtyard and saw Selene in all her Monday morning splendor, suitors flocking to her like bees to honey. Despicable really; all this work to be cool and in no way was Alex reaping the benefits. Too busy contemplating her charade, Alex slipped and the next moment she was flat on her back, watching the papers from her notebook fly all around her like a snowstorm. A behemoth had run into her without even the courtesy of a “look out!”. In the midst of the slow moving, college-ruled snowflakes, an awkwardly handsome face hovered over her.
“I’m so sorry. Are you okay? Do you have a concussion or something?”
“No, I’m fine.” Alex sat up with her elbows and hands, refusing his help, concentrating more on picking up the papers and not meeting his gaze. She looked around--the book must still have been safely nestled in her bag. She exhaled, shaking the nerves through the fibers in her throat.
“Hey, you’re Selene Windemere’s kid sister, right?”
Dammit, she cursed to herself. “Uh yeah, I guess I am.”
“You look just like her.”
“Heh, haven’t heard that one before.”
“Well, I have to say, you have much better taste in literature.” And that’s when he handed her Issue #8. Alex looked up at him with nervous regret.
“Um, a neighborhood kid dropped it on the bus. I was just going to return it to him.”
His smile faded as quickly as it came. Poor guy, if he only knew, she thought. He was undoubtedly attractive in small town fashion, but his black hair, gold eyes and dimples made him look like someone you could trust; a lady killer in his own unintentional way. And yet, through his eyes, he registered her lie and kept her secret locked away. “Well, uh, just let him know that he’s got some great taste. And maybe I’ll see him at the comic signing this weekend.”
“Comic signing?” Excitement was bubbling up in her chest and she pushed it down with every maddening ounce.
He laughed. “Yeah, Mortimus Sinclair is going to be at the bookstore on Fifth this Saturday, signing issues and stuff.”
“Huh, well I’ll make sure to let him know. I’m sure he’ll be very excited to see this Sinclair guy.”
He looked at her, waiting for her to break and smirking during the anticipation. When the bell rang signaling first period, his trance broke and he tightened his grip on his backpack. “Right. Well, I’ll see you around I guess.”
“Yeah, around, right.” She gulped nervously. As she watched him walk away, she stuffed the book in her binder and zipped it up tight, closing off her secret for the long day ahead.
Lunch shared the same anxiety. Selene saw Alex with her tray of food and patted the seat next to her without a second glance, barely glancing away from her admirers. It was all just robotic routine now. Alex sat down with a heavy sigh. When was the day going to be over? She wanted to go home and scream into her pillows with her complete resentment of high school. She didn’t want to be this person Selene was molding her to be. She didn’t want any part of it. She just wanted to curl up in a corner and escape somewhere else, be someone else. But Alex meticulously did her duty as protege. She smiled brightly at all the appropriate times and laughed at all of Selene’s jokes. While she played the well behaved puppy role well, she knew it was a matter of time before she bit back.
As Alex poked at her cold macaroni and cheese, she saw him walk past again.
She didn’t realize how tall he actually was when she wasn’t sprawled along the ground. He smiled, waving over to his friends as he chose a place to sit down. Alex could feel the blood rush up to her cheeks. Okay, enough of this. “Hey Selene, I’m going to the bathroom. I’ll see you after school?”
“Of course, dear sister, see you then.” She blew her an air kiss and Alex almost threw up in her mouth. Selene hadn’t always been like this, but that’s what high school did: it ruined sibling relationships and your overall quality of life. Alex smiled her pleasant fake grin, picked up her bag and tray and left. In the corner of her eye, she swore that she saw him look up at her but it could have been her own longing. Stupid, cute boy.
The day passed slowly, seconds ticking away in slow motion. Alex wanted to kiss the clock when the last bell rang and she could go home. She stayed quiet during the car ride with Selene and ran straight to her room to read Issue #8. When she was done, she felt guilty about lying to the boy. Was it really so wrong? And who would he tell? So what if her sister found out? Alex wasn’t even happy with Selene or her friends. If she was alone in her world with only Sherlock Holmes and her gang by her side, she would be the most content geek this side of town.
Hmm...maybe I should just wait until Selene moves out, she thought. She deliberated until she brought the pillow up to her face and screamed. The muffled angst soon became so tiring that it lulled her to sleep.
The week passed by. Alex continued to see that boy from across the cafeteria. They exchanged glances and nothing more. A pull of longing brought back a frequent sadness. All she wanted was a friend, someone who didn’t belong in Selene’s posse. And then came Saturday.
Alex’s conscience was fighting whether or not she should go. Her palms clammed up in anticipation. She bit her lip as she looked through the folder that she carried all of her issues in. Pretty soon there wouldn’t be enough room. She would finally be outed. Well, if I’m going to go out, might as well go with a bang. She put on some jeans and a slim fitting black shirt; her dad’s old baseball cap made the finishing touch. She threw the folder in her bag and snuck downstairs.
“Hey mom, I’m going to the book...uh, the mall for a bit, okay?”
Alex didn’t see her but she heard her calling from the living room. She knew she was folding the laundry from the smell of the familiar lilac softener wafting in the air and the clap of a full basket hitting the floor. “Are you going with your sister?”
“No, Mom, I’m just going to walk. I’ll just be there for a few minutes.”
Silence. Alex knew her mother was questioning her safety and whether or not she should go alone. “Maybe you should take Selene with you. She can drive.”
“It’s okay, Mom. I’ll walk. I’ll be back in an hour or so.”
“Do you have your phone with you?”
“Of course, Mother,” she groaned as she glanced impatiently at the clock.
“Don’t call me Mother. It makes me feel old. And text me if you’ll be later.” Alex held back a laugh and walked out the door before she changed her mind. She took a deep breath knowing the first obstacle was out of the way.
Mortimus Sinclair was going to be at the bookstore from 1:00PM to 3:00PM. It was now noon. If she got there early enough, she’d be in and out in no time. She enjoyed the walk there. The leaves had begun to fall with a hint of winter sneaking through the wind. Excitement speckled her aura and she tightened the grip on her bag as she walked closer to the store, a wide smile escaping her lips.
There was already quite a bit of people waiting in line inside. A long table waited in the back of the store along with a big cardboard stand displaying the cover of Issue #1. Alex stayed away for the time being. She went over to the mystery aisle, grabbed a Stephen King book and walked to the farthest corner of the store opposite the line. She sat on the floor next to a ladder and enjoyed the silence. She didn’t get past the prologue before someone sat down next to her.
She looked up and it was him. “Hi,” he said, his smirk no longer subtle.
“Um, hi.” Alex could feel her face turn to a healthy shade of crimson. What could she say that didn’t make her feel like a complete idiot? Oh right, nothing. “Not a very good disguise, huh?”
He laughed, tilting his head back against K through L. “God, you are so busted. Baseball cap, really?”
“Well, it turns out that I’m that neighborhood kid?”
“Yes, I assumed as much. Well, how about we start over, huh? I’m Jack.” He stuck out his hand and she nervously took it.
“Alex Windemere, nice to meet you.” He nodded with a smirk. “So, are you here to meet Mortimus Sinclair?”
“Well, I would be lying if I said I wasn’t a little bit excited, but I’m technically just bringing my kid brother, he’s a big fan. I just happened to read up on them a few weeks back.”
“Oh.” He must have felt sorry for Alex at that point, stooping as low as a little boy as to what she liked to read. It was hardly attractive. “Did you like it?”
“Yeah, not what I’m regularly used to but he’s a great writer.”
“He’s a genius,” she whispered with a smile. “I read a lot of mysteries and I think this is the first time that I’ve completely loved something in a long time.”
“So passionate,” he teased. Her cheeks were a whirlwind of fire. “If you feel that strongly, shouldn’t you be waiting in line now?”
“I’m claustrophobic.” He laughed, a small snort escaping his nose this time. She felt like hiding away in the self help section. “You sure it’s not...oh...an entire line of sweaty 12 year old nerds?”
“Well, maybe a little. Would you like a support group?”
Alex really hoped that she didn’t just imagine the open invitation. “Yeah, that would be good actually, thanks.” As they approached, the intercom came on announcing Mortimus’ entrance to the table. In her peripheral vision, she saw Jack lean in and she felt his hand touch the small of her back guiding her in his direction.
“You can come up front with us. I’ll have you in and out of here before the bum rush.”
She blushed, her voice barely above audible levels. “Thanks.”
He waved over to his brother who was itching with anticipation. “Where’d you go, Jack?”
“Liam, this is my new friend, Alex. Alex, this is my pest of a little brother.” Liam, at about 12 years old, was all bouncing wavy hair and unexpendable energy.
Alex seemed surprisingly more comfortable with him there. “Hi, Liam. You excited?”
“Oh yeah, definitely. This is my favorite comic of all time.”
“Mine, too.” Jack smiled down at her. For an embarrassing situation, this wasn’t shaking up to be a particularly bad day.
“Well, well, what do we have here?”
Until now. He couldn’t be here--her good for nothing torturer, Brayden Wilkes. She turned around and smiled at him like nothing was wrong. “Hi, Brayden, how are you?”
“Surprised to see you, obviously. Didn’t know the Windemeres were brave enough to stoop down to this level.”
“Huh, then what’s your excuse?’
The smile left his face as his brain failed to make a witty response. She turned back around and walked forward in line. Even Wilkes wasn’t going to spoil her fun today. Not when it was this big.
Mortimus looked different than what Alex had seen in pictures. He had natural, olive colored skin and long, black hair that was pulled back in a ponytail. He looked young for his 43 years of age, only a couple of wrinkles and some glasses on his face. He seemed uncomfortable being there, almost itching with tension. Whenever he would greet someone in line, he would smile shyly, exchange a few quick words, sign his name with a flourish and give a small wave goodbye. The sudden shock hit her of not knowing what to say. Her face went blank. “Are you alright, Alex?” she heard Jack ask her.
She responded with uncertain but quick nod. “Yes, of course, just a little nervous.” It was Liam’s turn and he was way more prepared than she was. Before Alex had time to blink, he had sputtered out two questions. Mortimus’ voice was exactly how she envisioned it somehow. He answered slowly and with patience, his words calming and warm. Even though he looked uncomfortable, he was no way pushy or intolerant. She heard Liam laugh and thank him for the autograph. Before she knew it, his moment was over and it was her turn. Alex clutched her folder in her hands and only after a nudge from Jack did she manage to open it and pull out Issue #1. For some odd reason, Mortimus had the same look in his eyes as she was giving him. For the first time, he looked...scared. She gulped nervously. “Hi, Mr. Sinclair, I’m--” Alex managed to whisper but had suddenly forgotten her name and voice. She heard Brayden snickering behind her.Mortimus, with a slight smile but still a spark of fear in his eyes, finished for her. “Hello, Eva Windemere.”