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Mile Markers

Friday, July 3, 2020

Enjoy Chapter Five of Hidden Bookmarks! (Unfinished Novel-In-Progress)


Chapter Five
Mind Blown

She could hardly concentrate through the day. Even Mrs. Vaughn had to snap her fingers to get her attention. “Kincaid? Hell-o? Good morning! Mind answering my question?”

   “U-Uh ...” stammered Kincaid. “I’m sorry. Would you mind repeating it?”

   The Barbies tittered.

   She went back to the library at lunch. But Mrs. Kunze had closed and locked it! Kincaid mashed her face against the rectangular pane bordering the left side of the door and peered inside, growling with frustration.

   The big cardboard boxes were stacked along three of the library’s four walls, floor to ceiling. She found out during the day that the donation had come in last night, which had the night custodians unloading them all through the early morning hours. Between first and second hour, she ran to the principal’s office to ask.

   The secretary, Mr. Albert, shook his head. “Everybody’s asking,” he said, approaching the counter. “I believe it’s an anonymous donor. I think that’s what the principal said this morning as she was leaving.”

   “Where’d she go?”

   “Some conference in L.A.,” he said, shrugging. “I don’t think Mr. Sierra knows either, before you decide to go find him,” he finished, grinning. “In any case—yay! Right?”

   “Yeah ...” murmured Kincaid. “Yay. Right. Thanks.”

At the end of the day, she hurried back to the library. Mrs. Kunze, standing behind the counter and holding a clipboard, had the door open—at least—but the lights were out. Custodians were busy hauling boxes out.

   “Kincaid! What can I do for you?”

   She appeared very happy, almost unnaturally so. Mrs. Kunze never smiled for longer than a few seconds, it seemed.

   “Uh ...” Kincaid began. “Uh ... do you need any help?”

   (Now why would she ask that? It came out before she could close her mouth!)

   Mrs. Kunze blinked in surprise. “Well now! This day just keeps getting better and better! You’re the only student to ask! Come on in! You can help me catalog the new laptops! I’m just about halfway through; with your help I can finish this in just a couple hours!”

   Kincaid glanced up at the clock. Mrs. Kunze noticed.

   “No worries,” she said. “I’ll be your bus ride home. Sound good?”

   That helped. “Yeah. Sure. What can I do?”

   “Well ...” said Mrs. Kunze ...

Kincaid pulled laptops out of their protective cardboard and bubble wrap, handing them to Mrs. Kunze one at a time, who then logged their serial numbers. She gave the machines back to Kincaid, who handed them to one of two custodians, who repackaged them in the big boxes. Once full, those were loaded onto a dolly, where they were wheeled out into the hall and away.

   “Where are they going?” she asked.

   “We’ve got plenty of dry storage behind the gym,” answered Jim (according to the patch on his uniform). “Old desks and whatnot. Plenty dry, cool, and dark. And well-locked.”

   Kincaid was still struggling to take the miracle of it all in. Half an hour later she was struck with a new one: the laptops were all Marillons!

   But ... she considered ... they were new Marillons. Did that mean they all sucked and would soon break down?

   She glanced up at the clock some time later and noticed that it was past 5:30. Mom would be getting home soon. She’d be worried if she wasn’t there. As a rule, she was glad she didn’t own a phone, but this time wasn’t one of those.

   “Go ahead and call out from the library phone,” said Mrs. Kunze when Kincaid mentioned the time. “We’re almost done—another twenty minutes or so. Promise. Give your mom a call and we’ll get through these last serial numbers. The custodians are wanting a break anyway.”

   “Mom!” she began when Mom’s phone message beeped. “I’m late getting home. Mrs. Kunze is bringing me. You won’t believe what happened today! I’ll tell you when I see you! Love you!...”

   She hung up. Twenty-five minutes later, she followed Mrs. Kunze out to her car, which was by itself in the faculty parking lot.

   “You were a huge, huge help today, Kincaid,” she said as she pulled up to the apartment house. “Without you, I’d be at that job tomorrow and the next day as well, and I’d have to keep the library closed, too! No matter what, a laptop will always be held on reserve for you. No waiting in line. Just walk on up. I know that isn’t the same as cash, but will it work?”

   Kincaid nodded with a smile. “Thank you.” She shook her head. “It’s too bad you don’t have assistants! I don’t know how you do it all by yourself.”

   Mrs. Kunze shrugged. “I lost all of them in the last budget cuts.”

   “Ridiculous,” Kincaid murmured. “Thanks for the ride.”

   “It’s the least I can do,” replied Mrs. Kunze. “See you tomorrow.”

Mom was late—again. Kincaid felt totally bonkers by the time she walked in, which was nearly 7 P.M.

   “What’s going on?” she demanded when she took a look at Kincaid’s face after kissing her cheek. “I got your message. You sounded almost frantic!”

   Kincaid, frustrated, blurted, “I’ve been bursting at the seams to tell you all day! You had to pick today to be uber late?”

   “I’m sorry, sweetie. The office was overbooked, and the last patient ...” She shook her head in disbelief. “... oy.”

   She put a hand on her shoulder. “What’s going on?” She glanced past her at the table, which was made and already had a bowl of mac and cheese waiting, as well as kielbasa sausage and steamed peas and pearl onions. Kincaid had already eaten, having skipped lunch (no appetite).

   “Oh, thank you for making dinner! Screw getting changed first; let me sit down and get a few bites in me after I wash up. You can share your huge news then. Okay?”

   Kincaid collected herself. “Yes. Hurry!

“You’ve got to be kidding me.”

   “I’m not! Swear to God!”

   “Well ...” said Mom, spearing a piece of kielbasa and eating it. She took a sip of merlot and swallowed. “Of course it’s all just a huge coincidence.”

   “Yeah! Of course!” Kincaid exclaimed. “But don’t you think that it’s crazy?

   “And here I was secretly celebrating the fact that I was going to get an extra fifteen minutes a day with my daughter!” She smiled sadly. “You know ... if you’re really ambitious and suspicious, maybe you could ... oh, I don’t know ... test this coincidence a little.”

   “You mean make another wish on the Word program to see if it does the weird stuff again, and see if that lines up with another event?”

   Mom shrugged. “Sure. Why not?”

   Kincaid smiled uncertainly. “It’s nuts, right? Just a coincidence. Right?”

   “You won’t know until you test it,” said Mom. “But I think we should think of the wish before you go and type it in. Agree?”

   “Yeah,” said Kincaid enthusiastically. “What should we wish for?”

   “Correction. What should you wish for?”

   “Hmm ... that’s a toughie. I’m going to think about it tonight and tomorrow at school. I want to make it a really good one!”

“Are you okay?”

   Kincaid glanced down at the floor, then back up at Mrs. Vaughn. “Yeah. Sorry. Been distracted a little.”

   Mrs. Vaughn had asked her to stay after the bell rang. With the class empty, she had asked.

   “Anything I can do to help? Everything all right at home?”

   Kincaid nodded. “Yeah. Sorry. I’ll do better tomorrow.”

   “You’re my ace,” said Mrs. Vaughn, a trace of sadness in her voice. “I don’t want to lose my ace.”

   Kincaid knew that were such statements offered to any other student in this entire high school, that the student would recoil in horror at being so prized by a teacher, let alone an adult. But for Kincaid the honorific genuinely meant something, and she had no patience to try to pretend otherwise, as virtually every teenager she had ever known would demand she do.

   “Thank you,” she returned meekly. “You won’t.”

   “What do you think of the new laptops?” Mrs. Vaughn asked, turning and walking to her desk, where she began writing a pass for Kincaid to take to her next class.

   “They’re ... unbelievable,” replied Kincaid, quite sincerely. She had her reserved one in her backpack.

   “Aren’t they?”

   Mrs. Vaughn returned with the yellow slip, which she handed to her. “We all have our off days. Keep your head in the game. Okay?”

   She grasped Kincaid’s shoulder and gave it a squeeze.

   Kincaid gave a chastised nod and walked out of the classroom.

She had obsessed about this test wish all day. What should she make it? And then she’d get on herself: This is SO STUPID! It was just a coincidence, nothing more! WHY am I giving this so much attention?

   She’d renew her focus on the tasks at hand—a new way to solve quadratic equations, a speech Hannah Arendt gave, and the following discussion, the scientific method as it applies to modern-day political polling—but soon find herself ruminating again over what she should wish for. It was maddening.

   While at her locker, she had surreptitiously watched as Bryan Tahl walked by. He had given her the quickest of glances, complete with an equally quick smile, and kept going. She watched as he passed a gaggle of Barbies; had watched as they brazenly stared at his butt; then watched as they turned to each other and began giggling.

   That was at the end of sixth period. Just ten minutes ago.

   It was then that a potential wish struck her. Smiling, she gathered the needed textbook for seventh period, the last of the day, before closing her locker and making her way towards the classroom.

Mom grinned. “Look at you! My sweet daughter is maybe opening up a little to new experiences! Now: tell me how you’re going to state your wish. That’s very important. Intent is everything, but you need to be very clear!”

   Kincaid, sitting next to her at the dinner table, went to answer, but then shook her head and slumped back in her chair. “This is so stupid!

   “No! No, sweetie, it isn’t!” Mom countered. “It really isn’t! I know this whole ‘type a wish into your Word program and get ready to be amazed thing’ isn’t real. Of course it isn’t! I get that! But let’s have some fun! Let’s be creative!”

   “But what’s the point?” demanded Kincaid.

   Mom turned fully in her seat and reached for her hands. “The point is that you are the most unassuming, sweet, quiet, non-demand-y individual I have ever known! You ask for almost nothing in this life. You have no idea how rare that is! You get great grades, don’t take drugs, don’t cause me nightmares, don’t run my credit card to its limits, don’t even ask for new clothes when school starts up again! You aren’t out sleeping around, aren’t concerned with popularity or prestige, aren’t tittering stupidly or slumping about all nihilistically cool and detached like so many of your age seem to do. You ... you’re an act of grace, Kincaid—with just one big fault.”

   Kincaid, sighing, waited. Mom’s speech had teased a tear or two to her eyes, which she kept from spilling down her cheeks by virtue of keeping her head very steady.

   “What’s my fault?” she got out, very quietly, gazing down.

   Mom squeezed her hands. It caused a tear to streak down her cheek.

   “Sometimes,” Mom began, “just sometimes ... not often, mind, but sometimes ... to be an individual ... you’ve got to let yourself dream big. For yourself and no one else. To wish and be selfish about that wish. To dream of the possibilities. Okay?”

Kincaid stared at the new, blank Word document.

   She had written a quick bit of verse last time. If she was serious about this (and why should she be? the back of her brain demanded), then she should write a quick bit of verse this time, too.

   She worked on it for a long time, finally deciding on:

A thousand new laptops—right on call!
My thanks to the spirits who were on the ball!
If it isn’t too much to ask—don’t get me wrong, y’all—
I’d really love a date with Bryan Tahl!

   She read it over, chuckling quietly, highlighted it, then cut and pasted it into her poetry manuscript. She saved it, and then closed both programs. (Was that what she needed to do?)

   “Okay,” she murmured, “let’s get this silliness over already so that I can stop being such a stupid tool.”

   She opened Word, to a new, blank document.

   There was the MR icon. She put her mouse over it.

Message Received

   She clicked on it. The poetry manuscript reopened. Her new poem was highlighted in those weird, swirly rainbow colors. She put her cursor over it, gaping. Somehow, indeed, the Word program somehow comprehended what she had written! She had purposely not put in the word wish to test it!

   The last poem told her she had one bookmark to resolve, and to click on it in order to bring up the little window that would allow her to delete it. This one said:

Four hidden bookmarks 


She tried double-clicking it, but nothing happened. No small window, no way to delete these mysterious new bookmarks, nothing!

   An hour later she went to bed, so frustrated that she didn’t get to sleep until after 2 in the morning.