"Okay, everyone, take out your copies of American History, and we'll pick up where we left off yesterday."
There was a fluttery scratching in the classroom, as books were pulled out from under every desk. Richard Tyler was no exception, while he dug his fingers into a Post-It note bookmark inside the pages. The covers thumped like wooden planks onto his desk, and he came face-to-face with two long pages of thick, bold text, and several photos full of people in snazzy, sophisticated clothing, cities full of bright lights, and dozens of old automobiles cruising along paved roads.
Richard blinked a few times to adjust to the bright colors and almost tangible emotion coming from those pictures. He didn't remember ever seeing something so grand, or loud, for lack of a better word, in his history book before.
"The Roaring Twenties," his teacher said, scrawling the words across the green blackboard. "The first time in our history that America absolutely lit up, in the cities, in the household! Fashions, and ways of life were changing. Even our ways of thinking were challenged, with cars, credit cards, and all sorts of debates between things like evolution and religion…"
And so it went on. Richard tried to pay attention, but he was drawn far too much to the pictures in his book. So he turned himself comfortably around in his desk, and picked up the edges of the book to draw it closer to his face. Through the lenses of his round glasses, he scanned the detail of the photos and paintings, even focusing on some passages in the text.
"Geez," he whispered, so low that not even his friend, Travis, could hear him from the next desk over. "Imagine riding in one of those old cars. They must have been really noisy, or something…"
Almost involuntarily, Richard reached into his pocket, and pulled out a little silver object. He placed it in his lap under his desk, turning it over and over in his hands. The object was the size of a padlock, and looked like a closed pocket watch, with a long silver chain that hung in between Richard's fingers.
"Maybe if I put this compass on the page after class," Richard whispered to himself. "I could go into the Twenties, and maybe ride on one of those old things."
"Shut up, Rich," Travis hissed. "You want to get us both in trouble, again?"
Richard ignored his friend, just pushing the silver circle further under his desk. "Hey, you're usually the one who talks, Travis," he answered finally.
"Then quit looking at that weird silver thingy and put that book down!" Travis said through his teeth.
"Rich, Travis," the teacher's soft voice asked, while she looked away from the blackboard. "What was that you both were talking about?"
The two boys kept quiet, while Richard clenched the object tighter inside his caged fingers.
"Thank you," the teacher said, before she started to pull down the overhead screen.
"Close call," Travis whispered.
Richard just nodded his head.
The teacher reached for the light switch, and put out the lights, while the students all turned their heads to the screen. When the portable projector started to run a film, Richard snuck his gaze towards his lap, pulling out his fingers to reveal the silver compass.
Richard grinned sneakily. The thing in his palms looked like an ordinary silver compass, with a chain and a scratch-free lid to cover what was inside. In fact, it might have looked like an expensive family heirloom, when really, it had been a rather unexpected gift from a just-as-unexpected source.
Just a week or so ago, Richard had gone on his standard after-school trip to the library, when Mr. Dewey had given him the compass. He wouldn't explain anything about why Richard should keep it, only that he would have wonderful adventures with it, when he opened a book. Knowing the old librarian, Richard couldn't quite take him seriously at first, but there was still some form of truth to what Mr. Dewey had said. Even though Richard thought it was kind of impossible, he could still feel the otherworldliness of the compass, despite how ordinary it seemed.
At last, Richard came to learn just how powerful the compass was that very night, for he placed it within the open pages of a book- The Wizard of Oz- and had been transported directly into the heart of the Munchkin city in Oz. Shortly after, Richard met Dorothy and Toto, accompanying them on their journey to the Emerald City, while they made some new friends and new enemies. The compass was like a reluctant companion, having taken on real emotions and ways of communication like a human being, while it revealed all the magic and power it really had. But the instant Richard had returned to reality, it never showed an ounce of that, shutting itself up like a sleeping fairy.
It had been a magnificent journey, since the very first one Richard had taken in the library that one stormy night. And he looked forward to taking another adventure into a book, accompanied by his trusty compass.
The problem however, was that Richard was always too busy or too tired to step into another book.
Richard's heart drooped while he glanced at the silent compass, and then at the screen, where the sparkling lights of a city glared back at the classroom, casting everyone's faces in bright hues. He supposed that he would have to just get out as quickly as he could, and squeeze in such an adventure. That was, if he didn't have too much studying to do.
Instead of meeting up with his friends to play a little ball, Richard dashed from the coatroom to the front doors, where he pushed his way through the rushing crowds of excited kids to reach the bike rack. In a few swift motions, he strapped on his helmet, tightened the straps of his backpack, and kicked back the kickstand, pushing off from there. Maneuvering across the sidewalk, between some trotting first-graders and their parents, he followed the cement path to the street, stopping right beside another student on a plain silver bike.
Richard's eye caught the shiny glow of the long, strawberry hair falling down the girl's back beside him, growing in a fiery cascade on top of a lettuce-trim T-shirt. He followed the strands to the solid lime-green helmet on her head, where a slightly-pointed nose stuck out from a pale, blemish-free face. Richard cocked his head to get a better look at her face- maybe to see her eye color- but his shadow blocked the late afternoon sun.
And she was turning her head to glance back at him.
Richard swerved his eyes to look ahead again, and took his time looking both ways. For some reason he couldn't focus his whole attention on the road, only snapping back to reality when he watched the redhead girl ride, pretty gracefully, across the street.
Shaking his head, he pressed onto the pedals, and started in the direction of the library once he'd crossed the road. He accidentally turned the corner sharper than he wanted to, squeezing the handlebars like stress balls, even when he was riding straight again. Everywhere he looked, he saw the shine like gold of that girl's hair, like a silken veil beneath her helmet. And even though he only saw them for a fraction of a second, Richard could vividly remember the grassy green in her eyes, like two apples glistening in summer sun.
He didn't even know her name, and yet he thought she was the prettiest, sweetest girl he had ever seen. Suddenly, he didn't quite care if she might be an out-of-reach popular girl, or if she wouldn't dare talk to him if he spoke up. At the very least, he had seen her, and could keep that thought of her inside his head.
Richard couldn't believe it. He had never experienced this kind of feeling before; the minute he could conceive the image of the girl in his mind, his heart beat the same way it had when he fought that dragon in the library; an excited, nervous thrill that he couldn't place a name on at all. Part of him enjoyed it, because it was a sweet, but complex feeling that made him feel good inside.
Driving his bike through the trees, Richard wondered if maybe the girl would enjoy riding her bike through the park with him. He couldn't imagine very much that they would talk about, but still, he wouldn't mind at least trying a joke or two to make her laugh.
That was, if he could even approach her so easily.
Finally, Richard stopped himself at the wrought-iron gates to the park. Beyond them, he could spot the doors of the library, labeled by the tall marble columns and the stone lion guardians. It was a pretty sight, with the spring wind blowing the trees across the path, as if waving for someone to come through the park and pull open the library doors. So Richard didn't hesitate to answer that call; he dismounted his bike, and pulled open one high gate, pushing his bike onto the path while the gate clanged closed behind him.
But then, he stopped short.
Despite the loud swishing of the tree branches, he could hear something else being carried through the air. It was low, but delicate, filled with passion. It was high-pitched, and musical, like a bird at the early dawn.
A voice- of a young girl.
Richard clenched the handlebars of his bike tighter, and wandered along a diverging path to follow the voice. He ducked beneath the lowering branches, avoiding some overgrowing patches of shrubbery, until he reached almost another part of the park, where it was enclosed by tall walls of bushes and trees, with a few benches here and there. Not too far off from Richard, one stone bench was spotlighted by the sun peeking over the high bush wall. Propped against the wall, was a simple metal bike, with a lime-green helmet dangling from one of the handlebars.
And there she was, just standing up from the bench, with a paperback book in her hand, and her long fiery locks of hair tumbling on her back in the breeze while she got to her feet.
Richard ducked back behind the wall the instant he recognized her, although he was absolutely transfixed with rapture. The way the sun glinted off the girl's hair when it caught the wind, and how her green eyes glinted against the sky, tied Richard's heart in knots, pulsing harder for air again. Finally, he had to duck entirely out of the way, holding his chest to steady his nerves, while the girl spoke to the open air.
"'Deny thy father, and refuse thy name'," she said with utmost passion, "'or be but sworn my love and I'll no longer be a Capulet!'"
Richard could only slowly turn his head. Just yards away from him, was the clear voice from somewhere other than planet earth. He closed his eyes for just a second, pretending that she was speaking to him…
"'Tis but thy name that is my enemy. Thou art thyself and not a Montague. What is Montague?'…"
Yeah, what is Montague? Richard wondered. That's actually a funny name. He covered his lips with a spare hand, trying to cover a laugh, and a stifled gasp at what immense expression he was listening in on.
"'Oh, be some other name." She paused after she spoke, sighing deeply over the sound of the trees. "'What's in a name? That which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet. So Romeo, were he not Romeo called, retain that dear perfection which he owes without that title.'"
I don't know what she's really saying, but she has the right voice for it. Maybe she'll stop soon, so I can tell her what a great job she's doing…
"'Oh, Romeo, doth thy name! And for that name, which is no part of thee, take all myself!'" The girl's voice was loud enough for Richard to hear her joyous giggles, like sweet bells on a rainy day. The way Richard thought about it, the girl seemed to be having a ball reciting strange language like that, although she still risked being spotted alone.
Still, Richard stood stagnant, trying to remember every perfect word that the girl had said. He didn't know whether it was the language, or the way she'd said it, that made his heart swell, but he knew one thing for certain.
"I should ask Mr. Dewey about those words. If there's anyone, he'll know for sure where I can find them."