“You certainly look chipper this morning.” Hermione said as they walked through the Secret Garden towards the exit.
“I had a good night’s sleep I think.” Binny said, keeping her poem safe and hidden in her pocket.
But Binny thought about Hermione’s comment. Binny really did feel exceptionally good this morning. She felt healthy, and alive. Bristling with energy.
“Well maybe you’ll surprise us and spend a second evening in a row with us as well, instead of running off to some fusty little cabin in the woods,” Hermione said.
“Our Binny is full of surprises,” Katniss said.
Arya had bounded ahead and was through the wooden door and into the hallway, holding it open with her sword for the others. Binny went next, her eyes immediately scanning for Michel. And sure enough, there he was.
Katniss and Hermione made it through the door just in time to see Binny waving at Michel and calling him over.
“Michel. I have something for you.”
Binny was so focused on getting Michel’s attention that she didn’t notice the crowd parting to her left. But the other girls noticed. Three was walking towards them. His hair was a darker shade of gray than the rest of him except maybe his eyes. If his appearance had contained more contrast, his hair and his eyes would likely have been jet black. Or at least it seemed that way.
As he walked, the dense crowd in the hallway made a wide berth and watched. For his part, he looked sad but determined. Like he was doing something distasteful but necessary.
Binny still hadn’t noticed Three approaching and was motioning to Michel excitedly. But Michel had stopped in his tracks when he saw Three marching towards them. Marching directly towards Binny.
Hermione hissed in Binny’s ear, “What did you do?”
Startled by Hermione’s tone, Binny jerked around just in time to see Three stop just a foot in front of her. Binny’s eyes went wide as she suddenly realized all eyes were on her, and one of the Keepers had come specifically to meet her.
Hermione’s words echoed in Binny’s head as Binny too asked herself, what did I do?
Three didn’t say anything. His eyes looked sad. All he did was put his hand out, his palm facing upward.
The silence in the usually bustling and cacophonous hallway was thick and oppressive. Binny could feel it in her throat and it made it difficult for her to breathe.
Three nodded gently to Binny again and left his hand out. Waiting.
Binny thought about the paper in her pocket. The paper with her poem. The poem for Michel. Michel who was standing a few feet away watching her humiliation. The paper. It was clearly what Three wanted.
Binny haltingly reached her hand into her pocket and pulled out the folded page from the register.
Three nodded affirmatively.
Binny reluctantly dropped the sheet into Three’s palm. And in an instant, he had shuffled his hand into his loose garment and the page had disappeared. The hand was back after only a brief absence. But now it was empty.
Binny held her breath.
Three paused, raised his eyebrow knowingly at Binny, and wagged his index finger ever so briefly. Binny got the message. Then after a moment, Three ruffled Binny’s hair playfully. All appeared to be forgiven.
And then before Binny could process what had just happened, Three was gone. The surrounding people all took one last sympathetic and humiliating look at Binny and continued on their way. The noise levels in the hallway returned to normal. Michel was nowhere to be seen. He’d disappeared into the crowd. Binny was alone on an island with her three friends and Hermione’s disapproving look cut into her like a scalpel.
“I swear, I can’t even imagine what you were thinking,” Hermione lectured.
Binny looked over at Katniss who had no trace of her usual smugness. But neither did she speak up in Binny’s defense.
“You’re living in a perfect world that is filled with some of the most incredible works of literature, and you’ve decided to create your own? What possessed you?” Hermione continued.
“It was hardly literature. It was just a small poem. I was trying to do something nice for someone.” Binny felt her familiar anger rise. It was good to have something to replace the humiliation she had been drowning in.
“You’re lucky it was Three who caught you.” Arya proffered. “It would have been much worse if it had been Two.”
“I don’t understand. What did I do wrong?” Binny did her best to keep her tears at bay.
“What I don’t understand is where you even got a piece of paper,” Hermione complained.
Binny’s eyes darted to Katniss.
“But that’s neither here nor there.” Hermione continued. “The main thing is this, and I suppose this is partly my fault since I’m now realizing I never explicitly stated this, but we’re not supposed to waste our energy on creating new things here.”
Binny saw Katniss’ face look darker than it ever had. “Waste our energy on creating new things? What does that even mean?”
“It means, that we have responsibilities. Responsibilities to our readers. And that each day we need to prioritize those over everything else. If we use our creative energy on other pursuits, then we won’t be able to perform our duties in book.”
Binny thought she saw Katniss roll her eyes ever so slightly, but then she thought maybe she had imagined it. “Wait. You’re saying that my little poem means that I won’t do a good job in my book? I don’t even know when I’m in the book. When I’m there I don’t know this place exists. How could I be anything but me there?”
“We’re late for work. Can we get going?” Arya interrupted, sounding bored.
Hermione had a bit of an ‘I-told-you-so’ look on her face when Binny whooshed back into existence after a day of being book Binny in The Madrona Heroes Register. When Binny took her eyes off of Hermione she realized why.
One and Two were standing there. One in her shifting grays. And Two in her stately gray attire with its slight hint of various purples. Golden Three was nowhere to be seen.
“Am I in trouble?” Binny asked.
“Of course not dear,” One said.
Two raised her eyebrows but said nothing.
“We understand. It’s natural to look for interesting things to do here. It’s just important to remember our purpose as well.” One said gently.
“I wasn’t trying to avoid my responsibilities.”
“Yes. Of course. But what were you doing?” One asked.
Two’s eyes narrowed.
Hermione, Arya, and Katniss all watched the interchange closely.
Binny thought hard for a moment. She couldn’t tell the truth. She’d broken the rules and didn’t want to implicate anyone else. “I was just entertaining myself.”
“We have a library full of the most wonderful literature ever written. We even have all the new forms you young people seem to like so much – films and such. Why would you ever need to be entertained?” That last word left Two’s mouth as a rasp.
“Is this entertaining?” One held up Binny’s poem on the unfolded page from the register.
Binny suddenly felt naked, exposed, her private words shown not only to her but to Hermione, Katniss, and Arya as well, while One and Two scrutinized her reaction.
The page read:
“Sorry for your Hopes
Maybe in the Stacks to write
“What is this exhortation to write?” Two asked.
Binny thought fast. “It’s just metaphorical. I was just thinking about how since waking up here in the Stacks it’s started a new chapter in my life. And the hopes that I had in my old life are gone now, replaced by my hopes here.”
Two didn’t look convinced. But then again she never looked convinced of much except that she was unhappy about something.
“Ah. How poetic of you Binny. But why did you capitalize the word ‘hopes’?”
Everyone looked closely at Binny awaiting her answer. Katniss especially.
“I guess I thought my old hopes were more important than they really were.”
“Sentimental.” The word dripped from Two’s mouth as a poisonous hiss.
One ignored Two’s response and smiled. “As I said Binny. Very poetic. Thank you for your explanations. Sorry to have accosted you after a long day of work.”
“And you girls, remember, your job is to help her acclimate. And that means explaining how things work. Please don’t forget your responsibilities.” Two admonished Hermione, Katniss, and Arya without waiting for a response.
One and Two started walking away, though to Binny it looked more like they glided.
“Oh, and Binny.” One stopped and turned back for a moment.
“How did you get the paper? This paper you wrote on.” One gently waved the sheet from the register.
“I found it in the cottage. The little cottage?” Binny tried her best to sound casual.
“I see. Maybe someone left it there.” One said and turned on her heels with Two in tow.
“Well that was certainly exciting.” Hermione sounded sarcastic, but it was clear to Binny that Hermione was trying to move past the incident with the Keepers.
“Yeah, I love getting in trouble,” Arya said.
Binny couldn’t tell if she was kidding or not. But it didn’t really matter. Either way Binny felt bad. She felt bad that her feelings had been exposed. She felt bad for getting in trouble. And she felt bad for getting the others in trouble. Well, not so much Katniss who had pretty much encouraged her without letting her know of the consequences. About that Binny just felt mad.
Dinner passed without incident and Binny decided to do herself and everyone else a favor and turn in early.
There was a knock at the door.
Binny couldn’t bear another lecture. “Yes.” She said.
It was Katniss, looking contrite.
“I’m sorry,” Katniss said, before Binny could speak.
“I’m not angry,” Binny said.
“So, what then?”
“I understand. I’m the new kid. You’re annoyed at having to be responsible for me. This is what constitutes fun for you. Getting me in trouble.”
“Oh, really that wasn’t it.”
“Wasn’t it? You act so cool all the time, like you’re better than everyone else? Now you got to prove it in front of everyone. I got yelled at and you said nothing.”
“I know. And you didn’t say anything either.”
“I didn’t want to get you in trouble.”
“Thanks for that,” Katniss said, sounding genuine.
“Look Binny. I don’t expect you to believe this. But I wasn’t trying to get you in trouble. It’s just been so long since I’ve seen anyone here try to do something creative, try to do something for someone else that I was genuinely excited. I was…”
Binny looked up. “You were what?”
“I was hopeful.” Katniss finally found the word.
“Thanks. I guess.”
“I’ll leave you alone. Again, I’m sorry.” Katniss made towards the door.
Just before she left, Katniss turned around. “Hey. I know I’m not your favorite person right now, but I am curious about something.”
“Yeah?” Binny asked, trying not to let her voice betray that she was already feeling more generous with Katniss than she wanted to.
“It took Three awhile to show up this morning to confiscate your haiku. I was wondering, when did you write it?”
“Yeah. Normally, one of the Keepers shows up sooner when someone’s doing something creative.”
Binny’s mind involuntarily flashed back to Michel and the beautiful geometric pattern he’d made from the clams in the chowder and how Two had shown up very quickly to destroy his creation and take away his dinner.
“Well, I wrote it just after I woke up. But that’s not where I actually thought of it.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well the poem came to me.”
“It came to you?” Katniss sounded confused.
“Yeah. It came to me in a dream.”