"Kit-Kat! Christmas is only a week away! And it's Christmas vacation, starting today!" came Brady Summers' horribly off-key declaration as she leaped onto Katriana "KC" Choinski's back, causing the much shorter girl to stumble into a line of lockers with a pained "oomph!"
"Yeah, and apparently I'm not gonna live to see it, if you have anything to say about it, Elephant-butt," KC grumbled as she pushed herself away from the metal wall. She scowled as she pulled up her sleeve to examine her elbow, which was darkening with the beginning of a bruise. "How many times have I told you not to call me Kit-Kat?" she added. "Do I look like a candy bar?"
"Ooooo! Somebody's in a pissy mood today." Brady drew herself to her full and very thin supermodel-height of six feet and two inches and pouted playfully down at her best friend, who was a very unimpressive height of five-foot-four, with no expectation of ever growing another inch in the future. KC had never understood why she was so short when her parents were so tall (six feet even, the both of them); her father had always joked that she actually came from a family of midgets and had been secretly switched at birth. All she knew was that once she'd hit thirteen and her current height, her body decided all on its own that it had done enough growing. Unfortunately for her, this also included her chest. It was to her eternal discomfiture that she wore the same cup size at age sixteen as she had at age thirteen, with little hope for any more growth there in the future, either.
"Oh, that's fine," Brady complained, tossing her red curls haughtily. "I come to wish you holiday cheer and you're calling me fat. Very nice."
KC rolled her eyes, knowing full-well Brady's penchant for playing the drama queen. She was about to point it out when a new voice cut in. "Come on, Brady. We all know the only fat you've got on your body is the stuff in your head where your brain ought to be." KC cracked up as a petite, smirking girl with short, glossy black hair and eyes the color of melted chocolate stopped beside them, her arms overloaded with books and papers.
"What is this, the 'Let's Insult Brady Brigade'?" the red-head complained good-naturedly.
"Hi, Kimiko," KC greeted, eying the newcomer's swaying stack of books doubtfully. "I see you're trying to bury yourself in homework again. But you know, that stack just doesn't look deep enough to do the job properly. Maybe if we try adding mine to the pile…"
"Nice try, KC. Maybe you should follow my example and actually do your own work. Then you wouldn't have to fake your mom's signature on your report card all the time," Kimiko Yura shot back, earning a laugh from Brady. KC pulled a face at them both and hoisted her pack over her shoulder.
"I can't go Christmas shopping with you this afternoon," she grumbled.
"What?" Brady yelped, nearly dropping her bag. "But … but the cheerful holiday music! The jolly old Saint Nick sitting in the center! Our customary Peppermint Mocha Trio at the coffee shop. And … and the sales! How can you miss that?"
"The hoards of rabid, desperate mothers and fathers running each other down in an attempt to grab the very last Must-Buy-or-I-Have-Failed-as-a-Parent toy of the season. How can you miss that?" Kimiko deadpanned.
KC's lips twitched despite herself. "It's because Ms. Brown gave us a huge world history assignment to do," she explained. "I'm talking, like, half-our-yearly-grade huge, here. She assigned us all periods of history which we have to thoroughly research and then write a thirty page essay about our findings. Thirty pages! And it's due right after vacation, which means I'll be spending most of my time looking up the finer details of ancient China in the library. China! What do I know about China? Why do I care about China? It's not like I'm ever gonna go there or anything! I'm thoroughly convinced that woman is the reincarnation of Ebeneezer Scrooge!"
"Well, that could be feasible," Kimiko replied slowly, "if Scrooge was, you know, an actual person and all…"
Brady laughed. "Weren't you the one who insisted on taking world history instead of normal American history like us common folk?" she teased as the three of them made their way out to the parking lot. Or, more specifically, attempted to squeeze their way through the double doors along with the rest of the school's population, all at the same time. "World history is, like, an advanced class, and you're not exactly an honor student."
"That was before I knew I had the Grinch for a teacher," KC gasped as she managed to pull herself free from the squirming tangle of arms, legs, and book bags. A gust of cold air hit her in the face, stinging her nose and forcing several explosive sneezes from her lungs. "Urgh. I swear I'b allergic to cold," she sniffled, wiping her nose on her sleeve.
"Ew, use a tissue, would you?" Brady wrinkled her nose distastefully. "And, like, cover your mouth while you're at it! I don't wanna catch whatever you've got and ruin my holiday."
"Your unfailing sympathy toward my health gives me warm fuzzies all over." KC pulled a face at her. "Anyway, as I was saying, history is actually one of my better subjects, so I figured taking an advanced course couldn't hurt my GPA any."
"Yeah. Unless you fail it," Kimiko deadpanned.
"Oh, hush up, you Einstein wannabe."
"Are you sure you don't want to come with us? A little shopping fortification before hitting the books will give you strength!" Brady pleaded, strolling over to her Cavalier, a sweet little convertible painted bright yellow. It had been a sixteenth birthday present from her parents three months ago. KC, whose parents weren't nearly as rich as Brady's, had gotten a gift card to Sears and a pack of underwear for her sixteenth birthday. That was from her mom. Her dad, who resided somewhere in Chicago, had apparently forgotten she even had a birthday.
"Let's see now…" Brady hummed a little, off-key tune (really, the girl couldn't hold a proper note to save her life) as she pulled out her keys and pressed the little button on her key chain to unlock the car.
The parking lot was immediately filled with an ear-shattering blast of noise that sounded roughly like a cross between a tornado alarm and a scalded cat, immediately drawing the attention of every student within a two mile radius to the source of the awful wailing, and the three girls standing beside it.
Two of which were not-so-subtly attempting to crawl into the asphalt and hide.
Looking properly sheepish, Brady hastily pushed the red button to silence the car alarm. "Eh-heh. Oops! My bad!" she chirped, attempting to look as cute and innocent as any anime heroine ever invented. The female students all rolled their eyes in jealousy while the males stood around and swooned in the face of Brady's brilliant, sheepish smile.
KC and Kimiko just looked at each other and rolled their eyes heavenward.
"Third time this week. And it's only Tuesday." Kimiko's sigh bespoke of extreme exasperation.
"I'd swear she does it on purpose," KC agreed.
KC breathed in the scent of old books and dust as she entered the library fifteen minutes later. "Stupid history teacher and her stupid homework assignments," she grumbled as she made her way to the research section, intent on finding and photocopying as many pages as she could in one shot, so she wouldn't have to make any return trips. Really, how stupid was it to not allow people to just check the books out and take them home? It was rather inconvenient. It wasn't as if there was a huge waiting list for books on ancient Chinese dynasties, after all.
But, maybe it's actually better this way, she thought, instantly cheering up. If she didn't have to lug a ton of books around, then she'd be able to join her friends at the mall. She still had presents to buy, and there was a Peppermint Mocha Trio with her name on it, darn it! It shouldn't be difficult to copy a decent amount of reference material in time to catch the three-thirty bus. It was really just a matter of finding out dates, names, a few details, and viola! Instant paper. Luckily she, like most American high-school students, had essay-writing down to a fine art, and prided herself on being somewhat of a connoisseur of making a paper look professional and detailed without doing a lot of actual work.
And hey, if all else failed, there were always Cliff's Notes.
Did Cliff ever write any notes on ancient China though?
As she pondered this mystery, KC absently browsed through the ancient, slightly-battered cabinets containing the numerous file cards of the Dewy Decimal System, looking for anything on Chinese history. Every other year or so, the head librarian and the head of the town council threw a big hoopla to raise money for a new computer network for the library, in order to modernize the entire system. This had been happening for the last ten years or so, and so far the only computer KC had ever seen in that library was the huge, antique Tandy behind the librarian's desk.
In another fifteen minutes, KC had come to the irritating conclusion that the library didn't have a single book on her subject. There were plenty of books on China, but they were all about the modernized country, not the ancient one. "It figures," she groused, snatching up her bag from the dusty floor and stomping toward the help desk. "I should've asked Kimiko to loan me her netbook and look it all up. What kind of a library is this, anyway?"
At least Kimiko would help her out. Well, as long as KC bribed her with some chocolate mousse cheesecake. Kimiko was fiercely protective of her netbook, but she could never resist chocolate, or anything sweet, for that matter. How the girl stayed so thin when she packed such a sweet tooth remained a mystery to KC, especially since she herself seemed to gain weight if she so much as licked a breath mint. She sighed heavily. Short, pudgy, and boobless. No wonder boys never looked at her twice.
Unless, of course, it was to ask for Brady's or Kimiko's personal information.
She stopped in front of the desk, behind which an elderly lady sat, slowly tapping away at the ancient computer. After two minutes had slowly ticked by, during which the librarian, Mrs. Potter, continued to be oblivious to her presence, KC sighed and shook her head. Mrs. Potter was a sweet old lady, but not exactly the brightest bulb on the Christmas tree, sometimes. She had been working at the library for as long as anyone could remember; she was probably there before the Tandy had ever made its appearance. Maybe even before Dewy Decimal.
After another minute had passed, and Mrs. Potter still showed no sign of awareness toward her immediate surroundings, KC finally succumbed to a noisy bout of throat-clearing. The tapping faltered and stopped and watery blue eyes framed by a pair of old-fashioned granny spectacles turned toward the girl. "May I help you, young lady?" Mrs. Potter asked politely. "Are you lost?"
KC held back a grin, despite her sour mood. "I'm not lost. I've been visiting this library since I was six. I even worked here for the past three summers as a volunteer, remember?"
Mrs. Potter squinted and adjusted her glasses, and then her face broke out into a delighted smile. "Why, Katriana Choin-sky! It's been so long since I've seen you, dear! How have you been?"
KC was forced to hold back another grin. "Just as well as I was last week. You know, when Mom had you over for dinner on Friday? And, it's Cho-in-skee." Really. If that woman ever learned how to pronounce her name, the earth just might violently heave itself off its own axis.
"Oh, of course, you're right." Mrs. Potter tittered as she shook her head. "I get a little absentminded now and again. Comes with old age, I guess." She patted her silvery hair. "Now, Miss Choin-sky, what may I help you with?" She smiled amiably behind her wire-rimmed spectacles and folded her hands primly on the desk. KC could almost swear she saw a teasing sparkle in the woman's eyes. She refrained from rolling her own as she replied, "I was wondering if you could let me into the back rooms, where all the old reference books are kept, the ones they don't put out for common use."
Mrs. Potter pursed her lips. "Oh, I don't know, dear, only employees are allowed back there. The books are old and can be easily damaged, you see."
"I know, and I wouldn't ask, but I've got this huge essay due and I can't find any books with the information I need and I've got so much to do and it's Christmas vacation and it would really, reallyhelp me out." KC was aware that she was on the verge of actually whining, and all she had to do was visit Kimiko and hook up to the internet, but for some reason it seemed imperative that she find the needed reference material at the library. It was probably because she couldn't find any that had her so determined to locate at least one book for her project. Her mom always told her that she was way too stubborn for her own good.
"Can you let me back there just for a little bit to get some info written down? I'm sure I can find what I need. I'll be very careful with the books, I promise. And I'm sort of an employee, aren't I, since I volunteer and all?" KC folded her hands together and gave Mrs. Potter her best kicked-puppy look.
"Well…" Mrs. Potter appeared to be heavily considering her plea.
Yes! KC did a mental happy dance. Never underestimate the power of the Puppy Eyes!
Finally, after a bit more deliberation, Mrs. Potter gave a brief, precise nod and opened a drawer to pull out a set of keys. "This is the key to the lower reference room located in the basement. And this is the key to the basement." She picked a tarnished brass skeleton key out of the bunch, along with a much newer and smaller steel key. "Now, mind you, the library closes in one hour, and you really aren't supposed to be down there, even if you do volunteer every summer. So make sure you don't let Charley see you. He'll be around about quarter till four to make sure the doors are locked and the lights are out."
"Thanks, Mrs. Potter. You're the best!" KC cried, snatching the keyring from the woman's hand and darting toward the basement stairs, managing to skid into the corner of a bookcase on the way.
"Walk, dear!" came Mrs. Potter's amused reprimand.
"Ow," was KC's answering complaint as she slowed her run to a more sedate pace; a fresh bruise was already forming on her other arm. "At least they match now," she grumbled, attempting to rub the ache out of her tender elbows.
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