By Your Side is *basically* the love story we’ve been waiting our whole book-loving lives for, and now you can read the first two chapters! In Kasie West’s newest and cutest romance, good girl Autumn gets locked in the library over the weekend, only to realize she’s not alone. Also trapped? Dax, the bad boy who Autumn and her friends know by his reputation alone.
I was locked in the library trying not to panic. Literally locked. As in, no escape. Every door, every window, every air vent. Okay, I hadn’t tried the air vents, but I was seriously considering it. I wasn’t desperate enough . . . yet. My friends would realize what had happened and they’d come back and free me, I assured myself. I just had to wait.
It all started when I had to go to the bathroom. Well, before that there had been a lot of soda—a two-liter of Dr Pepper that Morgan had smuggled into the library. I had drunk more than my fair share of the bottle when Jeff sat down next to me, smelling like trees and sky and sunlight every time he leaned over to ask my opinion.
It wasn’t until the windows darkened to black, the librarians asked us to leave, and we made it all the way to the underground parking garage where the fifteen of us were dividing into four cars that I realized I wasn’t going to make it down the street, let alone all the way to the canyon campfire.
“I have to pee,” I announced after I plopped my bag into Jeff’s trunk. Lisa rolled down her window. Her car, parked next to Jeff’s, was already running. “I thought you were coming in my car, Autumn.” She gave me a knowing smile. She knew I wanted to go with Jeff.
I smiled too. “I’ll be right back. There is no toilet at the bonfire.”
“There are a lot of trees,” Jeff said, rounding the car and slamming his trunk shut. It echoed through the nearly empty garage. In his car I could now see three heads in the backseat and a fourth in the passenger seat. No. They all beat me to it. I would have to go with Lisa after all. No big deal, I’d have plenty of time to talk to Jeff at the bonfire. It wasn’t in my nature to be bold in my declarations of undying affection, but with my limbs all jittery from nearly two liters of caffeine and Lisa’s warning about Avi stealing Jeff out from under me buzzing in my head, I felt powerful.
I rushed back down the long hall, up the stairs, and through the glass walkway that overlooked a courtyard. When I made it to the main floor of the library, half the lights were already out.
The library was too big and needed more bathrooms, I decided by the time I made it there. I pushed open the heavy wooden door and quickly found a stall. The box holding the paper seat covers was empty. Looked like I’d have to hover.
As I was zipping my pants back up, the lights went out. I let out a yelp then laughed. “Funny, guys.” Dallin, Jeff’s best friend, had no doubt found the breaker. It seemed like something he would do.
The lights remained out, though, and no laughing followed my scream. They must’ve been on motion detectors. I waved my hands. Nothing. I inched forward, feeling along the door, trying not to think about all the germs clinging to it, until I found the lock and slid it open. A streetlight shone through an upper window, so I was able to see just enough for a thorough hand washing. It was an eco-friendly bathroom, meaning only air dryers. I wiped my hands on my jeans, opting for speed over the most inefficient way ever to dry hands. My reflection in the mirror was only a shadow, but I leaned forward anyway to see if my makeup was smudged. From what I could tell, it looked fine.
Out in the hall only a few random overhead lights illuminated the way. The place was completely shut down. I picked up my pace. The library at night was creepier than I’d thought it could be. The ten-foot-long enclosed glass hallway sparkled as snow began to fall outside. I didn’t linger like I was tempted to. Hopefully the snow wouldn’t affect the bonfire. If it stayed light, it would make it magical. A perfect night for confessions. Jeff wasn’t going to freak out when I told him, was he? No, he’d been flirting with me all night. He’d even picked the same era as I had for the history essay. I didn’t think that was a coincidence.
As for the cabin with the girls after the bonfire, the snow would be perfect. Maybe we’d get snowed in. That had happened once before. At first it had stressed me out but it ended up the best weekend ever—hot chocolate and tubing and ghost stories.
I reached the door to the parking garage and gave the metal bar a shove. It didn’t budge. I pushed a second time. Nothing. “Jeff! Dallin! You’re not funny!” I pressed my nose against the glass, but as far as I could see both ways there were absolutely no cars or people. “Lisa?”
Out of habit, I reached for my cell phone. My hand met only the empty pocket of my jeans. I’d put my black weekend bag with all my stuff—cell phone, clothes, jacket, purse, snacks, camera, medication—in Jeff’s trunk.
I ran the entire library, searching for another way out. A way that apparently didn’t exist. Six doors to the outside and they were all locked. And so there I was—back leaned up against the door to the parking garage, its cold seeping into my skin—stuck in a big empty library, caffeine and anxiety battling it out in my body.
A heart-fluttering panic worked its way up my chest and took my breath away. Calm down. They’ll be back, I told myself. There had just been too many people getting into too many different cars. They all thought I was with someone else. Once the four cars reached the bonfire, someone would notice I wasn’t there and they’d come back.
I calculated the time that would take. Thirty minutes up the canyon, thirty minutes back. I’d be here for an hour. Well, then they’d have to find someone with a key to open this door. But that wouldn’t take much longer. They’d all have phones. They could call the fire department if they had to. Okay, now I was getting dramatic. No emergency departments would have to be called.
My pep talk helped. This was nothing to get worked up about.
I didn’t want to leave my post for fear my friends wouldn’t see me when they came back. Or I wouldn’t see or hear them. But without my phone or my camera I had no way of passing the time. I started humming a song very badly, then laughed at my effort. Maybe I’d just count the holes in the ceiling panels or . . . I looked around and came up empty. How did people pass the time without cell phones?
“. . . skies are blue. Birds fly over the rainbow.” My singing wasn’t going to earn me a record deal anytime soon, but that hadn’t stopped me from belting out a few songs at the top of my lungs. I stopped, my throat raw. It had been at least an hour.
My butt was numb and the chill from the floor had crept up my body, making me shiver. They must turn the heat down on the weekend. I stood and stretched. Maybe this place had a phone somewhere. I hadn’t thought to look until now. I’d never had to look for a phone. I always had my phone with me.
For the seventh time that night I walked back through the glass walkway. Everything was white now. The ground was covered in snow, the trees frosted with it. I wished I had my camera with me to capture the contrast of the scene—the dark lines of the building and trees against the stark whiteness of the snow. I didn’t, so I kept walking.
I started in the entryway, but couldn’t find a phone anywhere. There might have been one in the locked office, but a big desk blocked my view. Even if I could see one, I obviously didn’t have a key. Past a set of double glass doors was where half the books lived. The other half were behind me in the children’s section. It was darker in there, and I lingered by the doors for a while, taking in the space before me. Large, solid shelves filled the center, surrounded by tables and seating areas.
Along the side wall were computers. I could send an email or a direct message.
It was even darker once I stepped all the way inside. Some table lamps were spread throughout the area and I reached under the shade of one to see if they were for decoration or if they actually worked. It clicked on with a warm glow. By the time I made it to the computers, I had turned on three lamps. They did little to dispel the darkness in such a large space, but they created a nice ambiance. I laughed at myself. An ambiance for what? A dance party? A candlelit dinner for one?
I sat down in front of a computer and powered it on. The first screen that lit up in front of me was a prompt to enter the library employee username and password. I groaned. Luck was not on my side tonight at all.
I heard a creaking noise above me and looked up. I don’t know what I thought I’d see, but there was nothing but darkness. The building was old and probably just settling in for the night. Or maybe it was the snow or wind hitting an upper window.
Another noise from above had me walking quickly to the hall. I jogged up the stairs and reached the front door. I pulled on the handles as hard as I could. The doors stayed firmly closed. I looked through the narrow side window. Cars drove by on the main avenue in front, but the sidewalks were empty. No one would hear me if I pounded on the glass. I knew this. I’d tried earlier.
I was fine. There was no one in the library but me. Who else would be dumb enough to get trapped in a library? All by themselves. With no way out. Distraction. I needed a distraction. I had nothing with me, though.
Books! This place was full of books. I would grab a book, find a faraway corner, and read until someone found me. Some might’ve even considered this scenario a dream come true. I could consider it that too. There was power in thoughts. This was my dream come true.
I startled awake, and it took me several moments before I remembered where I was—trapped in a library. The book I had picked out to read rested open on my lap and my head had flopped onto the armrest of the chair. My neck screamed at me as I sat up. I rubbed at the knot there. A clock on the wall above the checkout desk read two fifteen.
Why wasn’t anyone worried about me? Searching for me? Maybe they were. In the wrong places. Had they all thought I went to the bonfire? That I decided to go home from there?
My parents were going to kill me. It was never easy talking them into letting me spend the weekend up at the cabin with the girls. I’d had to negotiate hard. My mom was a lawyer and way too good at making me see things her way, so I always went to my dad first. Plus, he worked from home (Creating the perfect tagline or jingle for your business. His words, not mine.) so he was the one available to take requests. Once I had him on my side we could normally convince my mom together. The negotiation had gone something like this:
“Dad, can I go up to Lisa’s cabin this weekend?”
He spun his desk chair around to face me. “Which one sounds better? ‘Tommy’s, because every day is a donut day.’”
“Ooh. Every day is a donut day. I haven’t had mine today yet.”
He held up his finger. “Or. ‘Tommy’s, they’re hot and fresh.’”
“Who’s hot and fresh? That sounds like you’re talking about a house full of frat boys or something.”
“You’re right. I need the word donuts in there, don’t I?” He spun back around in his chair and typed something in his computer.
“So? Can I go this weekend?”
I wrapped my arms around him and laid my head on his shoulder. “Please. Her parents will be there, and I’ve done it before.”
“The whole weekend seems a bit long for you.”
I gave him a smile while putting on my best pleading face. “I’ll be fine. I promise. I won’t go out at all next weekend. I’ll stay in and help around the house.”
I could tell he was softening, but I hadn’t quite got him. “And I’ll hang out with Owen next time he’s in town.”
“You like to hang out with your brother, Autumn.”
I laughed. “Or do I?”
“Your mom’s firm has a work dinner in a couple of weeks. If you can handle a weekend at a cabin, you should be able to handle that.”
Nothing could have sounded worse to me. But that’s what compromise was—giving up something for another thing you wanted more. “Okay.”
“Okay,” he said.
“I can go?”
“I’ll have to double-check with your mom, but I’m sure it will be fine. Be safe. Take your phone. Your rules for the weekend: no drinking, no drugs, and call us every night.”
I kissed his cheek. “Those first two might be hard, but I can definitely handle the third.”
“Funny,” he said.
Call them every night. I hadn’t called them tonight. I wouldn’t call them tonight. That would put him in full dad mode. He’d call my friends. If they hadn’t understood why I wasn’t there before, they’d understand that somewhere along the way I’d gotten left behind. Someone would put two and two together. Sure, my parents would never let me leave the house after this again, but at least someone would find me.
My head ached, so I found my way to the drinking fountain outside the restroom. At least I had water. And nothing else. Nothing else. I shook my head. Those were the wrong thoughts. Someone was going to find me soon. If not tonight, then in the morning, when the library opened. I couldn’t remember what time the library opened on Saturday mornings. Ten? Eight more hours. Easy.
It was getting colder in the building. I found a thermostat box on the wall, but it was locked. This place sure seemed overzealous about their security.
In the distance I could barely make out a steady beat. There was music coming from somewhere. I ran to the front door and saw a group of people walking by on the sidewalk, laughing. They held a phone or iPod or something that was glowing in the darkness and playing music loud enough for me to hear. I banged on the glass and yelled. Not one of them turned or paused. Not one of them looked around like they even heard the hint of a noise. I banged again and yelled louder. Nothing.
“Listening to music too loud damages your hearing,” I said, resting my forehead against the glass. That’s when I saw a white paper below me, taped to the window. I peeled it off and read the front. The library will be closed starting Saturday, January 14, through Monday, January 16, in observance of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.
Closed for the entire weekend? All three days? I’d be stuck here for three more days? No. I couldn’t do this. I couldn’t be in a huge building alone for three days. This was my worst nightmare.
My heart was beating so fast now it felt like my chest was being squeezed. My lungs weren’t expanding like they should. I yanked on the chains wrapped around the handles of the front door. Pulled them with all my might. “Let me out.”
A voice in the back of my head told me to calm down before I made this worse. Everything was fine. So I was stuck alone in a library, but I was safe. I could read and jog the stairs and stay busy. There were plenty of distractions here.
In my new quiet state, I heard something behind me. Footsteps on wood.
I whirled around, pressing my back to the door. That’s when I saw a shadowy figure on the stairs, a metal object glinting in his right hand. A knife. I wasn’t alone after all. And I definitely wasn’t safe.
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