“Patricia!” the old man snapped, his eyes wide.
“Can’t you just go in and get him out?” Riley asked, wiggling around in the boxes, trying to pull herself up.
“There’s some kind of wall. It’s keeping us from getting to him.”
“Patricia, you can’t be telling her this!” the old man said, grasping her arm and pulling her back into the store. “Why don’t you go…stock some shelves or something.”
It was funny to watch the old man’s facial expressions…or it would have been if Riley didn’t currently feel like a helpless turtle on its back. The old man made nodding and winking motions at Saber, as though trying to give her a hint about what he was saying. The only bad thing was he was terrible at it. It was so blatantly obvious that neither Saber nor Riley could suppress a giggle.
“Max, it’s okay.” She looked at me, smirking at my attempts to get up. “Turtle over there is the one who helped us with Bruce the other night. She’s seen the wraith that’s after him. Plus, I think she’s a Dream Walker.” Saber, or Patricia, raised an eyebrow at Riley, as though she had some kind of answer. Riley sighed and stopped flailing, letting herself just fall back onto the boxes. One dug into her back. It was frustrating, but she kept her weight lifted just enough for it not to be too painful.
Max stood there and studied Riley for an uncomfortable amount of time. He didn’t say anything. It was getting kind of creepy before he finally reached his hand toward her.
“Patty, help me get her up. She’s destroying those hardcovers.”
Patricia came around to Riley’s other side. When the two nodded to one another, Riley braced for the torture she was about to endure. She took a deep breath and clenched her jaw. It was a good thing because the moment they started to lift her, stabbing pain shot up her leg, making her grunt.
When they finally got her up, Patricia supported her while Max reached down for her crutches, handing them to her.
As the pain slowly dulled, Riley was frustrated that she hadn’t been able to keep the wetness from slipping out of the corner of her eyes.
“I hadn’t realized you broke your leg. That’s why you were in the hospital with Bruce?” Patricia asked.
Riley nodded, wiping her face. She didn’t trust herself to form words just yet as she focused on her breathing.
“Thank you for helping me in the nightmare. I’ve fought many wraiths before, but nothing like that. I’ve never seen anything that strong.”
“Who are you people?” Riley breathed out. The pain had faded enough to be a dull throb settling at the back of her consciousness.
“In the dreamscape, I’m Saber. Out here, you can call me Patty.”
She nodded, then looked at the old man. “And you?”
“Max,” he said in a gruff voice, keeping his arms crossed. “We really don’t have time for this.” He looked at Patty sternly. “Bruce is in there and needs you to keep an eye on him.”
“Is the store closed?” Patty asked, and he nodded.
“Yeah. I was on my way when these two started snooping around the entrance to downstairs.”
“I knew there were too many brooms in that closet!” Riley exclaimed, unable to hold back the excitement.
Max eyed Riley. “I’m just going to make up a sign saying we are closed for a family emergency.”
Riley shook off his disapproval. It wasn’t like she had done anything wrong. How did she know he had been about to close the store? She just came because Bruce told her to.
“After that, maybe I’ll throw away some of the brooms,” he growled.
Patty laughed. “Max, she didn’t mean anything by it.”
He frowned at Riley. “You know, those are all different types of brooms. You must have the right tool for the right job. You could learn a thing or two about that, young lady.”
Patty waved him off. “I’m going to take Riley downstairs and show her around.”
Max’s eyes widened. “You can’t do that. You know you can’t.”
“I’m going to need her help. Bruce needs us.”
“If you need more Chasers, I can call some of the others in. Chad is already down there. He could go with you.”
“Chad? What’s he doing here?” Riley asked, shocked and curious as she thought about being a part of something that involved him.
Max shrugged. “I don’t know. Said he needed to look at some of the logs over the last few weeks. I’m not sure. Principal Cline thought it was a good idea.”
Riley held up a hand. “Wait a second. Chad’s here? Like the Chad who’s in my class?”
“Yeah,” Patty said, shrugging, as if the boy Riley had broken her leg for just so she could impress him was no big thing.
Patty must not have seen the shock on Riley’s face, or she just chose to ignore it, because she turned back to Max.
“I’m not going with Chad. You know I can’t stand him. Weird things happen when he’s in there.”
“Weird things also seem to happen when she’s in there,” Max said, glaring at Riley.
“Yeah, well, her weird things seem to help. Chad just makes things…creepy.”
Riley wasn’t happy to hear that her future boyfriend was thought of as creepy. At school, he always seemed to be the center of attention. He had this aurora everyone seemed to want to be around.
Nope, creepy guy had to be a different Chad. There was just no way. Riley was not going to accept that it was him, but it sounded like she’d find out soon enough because she was actually going to get to see what was going on downstairs. Going to get to see the secret hidden lair of a secret organization that kids her age participated in.
It was like all her childhood fantasies come true. How many times had she watched those cartoons or read those books where the character was taken off to be a part of something cool? Now it was her time. It was actually going to happen to her.
“I don’t think you should take her down there, Patricia. She hasn’t been vetted. Who’s to say what happened before wasn’t a fluke…or a setup. There are other forces in the world besides our own,” Max said, picking up one of the boxes Riley had fallen into. He inspected it, then gave her a sour look. She began to feel that was his default setting.
“Call Bruce’s parents. See what they say,” Patty said as she put her arm around Riley, guiding her to the door. “But just so you know, when they tell you it’s okay, we’ll already be downstairs, saving him.”