Riley couldn’t believe she had been right about the entrance being in the closet. Especially since the little she had seen of it looked so old and dingy that there was no way people went through there on a regular basis.
“Is there another entrance?” Riley asked as she looked around the little room.
“I’m sure there is. It’s a government facility and I’m pretty sure that’s a thing with them, but this is the only one I know of.” Patty acted as though they weren’t in a hidden secret entrance. She looked at Riley with a cheesy smile.
“Okay…,” she said, thinking Patty had to be playing a joke on her. “This can’t be it.”
“I know. It really doesn’t look like much. That way, they can keep some poor girl, shuffling along on crutches, from wandering around and stumbling onto a secret government facility running an experimental program on the youth of today.”
“I guess, but where is the door?” Riley asked as she started to enter the room. Patty quickly held up a hand.
“Wait. Only users with access can be in here when I initiate the security scan. Otherwise…” Her face fell. “Well, I’m not really sure what happens, but according to Max, it has something to do with lasers, acid, and no one ever being able to find the body.”
Riley tried not to linger on the mental image of what that meant as she shuffled backward on her crutches to stand in the aisle. She noticed one of the books nearby was the The Wizard of Oz. There were a couple other titles there, all of them obviously part of a series, which surprised Riley. She never realized The Wizard of Oz was part of a series.
Oh, what a world, she thought with a chuckle as she remembered watching the witch melt at the end of the movie, disappearing into her robe, leaving only cloth and smoke. Riley had the distinct feeling melting by acid was not as clean.
“Okay, I’m ready,” Patty called to her, pulling Riley out of her thoughts. When she stepped back into the closet, it was very different than before. If it weren’t for the brooms leaning against the wall, she wouldn’t have recognized it.
The dusty shelves on the back wall were gone, replaced with a well-lit stone stairway descending into a sub-basement with white walls. The floor of the room was beautiful polished hardwood that ended at the stairway.
“How do people not see this?” Riley breathed out in amazement.
“The stairs? The door doesn’t open unless someone with access comes in here. There’s a hidden panel and all kinds of security, but-”
Riley shook her head. “No. I mean, it’s so bright, people would notice it when they walked through the aisles.”
“Well, first off, not too many people come here anymore. I mean, how often have you been in the library or bookstore lately?”
She shrugged, giving her a sheepish smile. “Yeah, I mainly read on my phone or tablet.”
Patty shook her head. “Sad. That’s just sad. I always loved going to a bookstore, even before I became a Dream Chaser. There’s something about actually holding a book and smelling the pages.
“Anyway, that’s part of it. Also, whenever we go down, the doors close, so the light doesn’t leak out, and this room is soundproof. A security camera outside the door monitors anyone coming close. The passage won’t open until they move away.”
“That’s a lot of security,” Riley said as she approached the stairs. Patty was already halfway down them, but Riley stared at them with trepidation. She’d navigated the stairs with her crutches at home once. They were a challenge, but she had done it by holding onto the railing and bouncing down on one leg. These stairs didn’t have a railing until the fourth step, so she had nothing to hold onto.
“Crap,” Patty said when she saw Riley hesitate, then rushed back. “I hadn’t thought of that. Here. Hold onto me.”
Riley wrapped her arm around the other girl’s shoulders. Patty staggered, then started falling back against the wall. Riley tried to pull herself away, but they both shifted.
Riley felt an arm snake around her stomach and pull her back. When Patty’s grip started to slip, Riley looked from the arm around her to the girl falling into the wall. She imagined Patty bouncing off the wall and tumbling down the stairs. She couldn’t let that happen.
She fought against the arm around her as she reached out.
“Woah,” the male behind her said, tightening his grip.
Riley quickly reached out to catch Patty, then realized she never needed her help in the first place. Patty spun around, reaching out for the wall and somehow regaining her balance.
She knelt on one knee and looked up at them, panting. Riley couldn’t help but think of Patty’s avatar, Saber, remembering watching her fight the night before. Of course she would be okay. She was a hunter.
“Hey, Chad. What are you doing here?” Patty asked as she climbed to her feet.
Riley’s eyes widened and she looked down at the arm still around her waist She wanted to touch and trace the cords of muscle. Heat rose in her cheeks as she slowly looked over her shoulder.
He smiled down at her, showing off those perfect white teeth. His smile was one models would treasure, and those dark brown, mysterious eyes were easy to get lost in.
“Why are you taking her…” He nodded in Riley’s direction, making her heart skip a beat. He’d acknowledged her. He struggled to find words, almost like he didn’t want to say where they were going.
Men. They never trust women, Riley thought.
Patty chuckled. “I’m taking her down to our secret Dream Chaser hidden base so I can show her all of our secret toys.”
Chad’s face went white as he loosened his grip on Riley. She squeaked and braced herself to fall, but he retightened his arm and helped her to the side of the stairs so she could lean against the wall. Then he bounded down the stairs to Patty, stopping a stair above her.
“Mr. Phillips isn’t going to like you bringing in some random stranger. She’s not one of us. She’s an outie. She has no place down there.”
Riley thought she could detect a flicker of fear pass through the smaller girl, but as quickly as it had come, it was replaced by rage. Riley watched Patty’s face harden, her jaw clenched and eyes narrowed. This girl was scary when she got mad, and she wasn’t used to backing down.
“Chaz,” Patty said, accentuating the z in a mocking way that made Chad’s own jaw set and color rise into his face, “if you’re so worried about it, why don’t you call Mr. Phillips yourself. I’m sure he would love to hear from you. Especially considering how you haven’t been able to take down any wraiths the last month. How many times have I had to come in and save you? Do you want me to tell everyone the last nightmare I found you in?”
Chad moved as if he wanted to push her, but stopped himself. It looked like he fought to control his anger, taking deep breaths. Riley watched him. Was he really counting to ten? She couldn’t hear anything, but watched as his lips moved. He was counting to ten, and then to twenty under his breath. Then he closed his eyes for a second and backed away.
Without a word, he turned and stomped up the stairs, past Riley and out of the closet. She felt her breath catch briefly as he passed, her heart fluttering when he glared at her. Sure, it wasn’t the way she wanted him looking at her, but he had finally noticed her.
But as he walked away, pouting like a baby, some of the fantasies she had faded. Still, this was Chad, big and strong, the jock of the school. Riley never thought he would be her type, but ever since she’d laid eyes on him, she felt her heart flutter and imagined kissing him.
“Are you done daydreaming, or do I need to give you a few minutes?” Patty asked. Riley looked down at her, shocked, seeing a smile on the girl’s face.
“I wasn’t-” Riley stammered, but Patty cut her off with a laugh.
“I could see you making out with him in your mind. I know that look, and all I gotta say is…blah, ugh, blech.” Patty’s body shook as she stuck out her tongue. “Ugh, how can you stand that guy?”
Riley shifted back and forth on her crutches, uncomfortable. “I don’t know. He’s cute and, well…”
Riley realized she didn’t have anything else. There had to be more she liked about Chad. What was it about him that she always thought about? She tried to think of it, but damn, Patty calling her out on it made it impossible.
Patty waved her arm through the air. “Don’t sweat it. Let’s get down the stairs.” She walked up and placed one of Riley’s arms around her shoulders, supporting her around the waist. Riley leaned onto the other girl as they started working their way down the steps. “But we are coming back to this conversation later.”