Porter was pretty sure she liked him. It had been a week since the thing on the school steps and even though he hadn’t gotten up the nerve yet to actually say anything to her, he had seen her a bunch of times and when she saw him smiling at her, she almost always smiled back. In fact, for the past few days, there were several times when he had seen her and she was already smiling at him.
He liked the fluttery feeling in his stomach when he saw her, but now a new feeling was creeping in. It was the feeling that said he was a loser because he was too scared to say anything, much less ask her out on a date. So he started thinking about asking her out. He thought about it a lot. Okay, truth was, it was about the only thing he thought about from the time he woke up until the time he fell asleep and he dreamed about it, too. It’s time is the thought cycling through his mind at the moment he saw her coming toward him down the hall. It kept cycling as she approached. And as she passed. Smiling at him again, while he just grinned back like the world’s biggest goober.
And then, without even thinking, he turned around and said, “Alice?”
She stopped but she didn’t turn around or anything. She just stood there with her back to him. Until he said again, “Alice?”
Then she turned around. Looked at him with that glorious smile of hers, sort of cocked her head to the side in a way that just about made Porter die right there on the spot in the middle of the hall in the middle of Diebold High.
Somehow, he didn’t die. He said, “I was thinking, I mean, I was wondering, I wanted to—“
“I’d love to go out with you, Porter,” she said.
His heart pounding so hard he feared it would leave his chest, he said, “Really?”
Alice walked down the hall with so much running through her mind that it was hard to focus on any one thing. She’d thought he was cute forever. And it was obvious he was about the shyest thing she’d ever seen. (That part was cute, too.) She would’ve gone out with him months ago if he had asked. She had liked him even more after the thing on the steps. She didn’t know why that made her like him more, but it did. After that, she not only would have gone out with him; she wanted to go out with him. All that was enough, but now there was so much more.
She walked toward home. She had homework she needed to get done. Chores she had to do. She didn’t have time to go see the book today.
A block later, she turned and headed for the theater. When she got there, Mister Dan wasn’t around, but that didn’t matter. She knew everybody else there, too, and because she jumped in and helped out whenever something needed doing, she pretty much went where she wanted when she wanted. Today that was a beeline for the booth and, once inside, straight for the book. She lugged it from the shelf to the workbench and carefully opened the cover.
The pages were old, thin as the skin of an onion, but the text on the back of the page didn’t show through like it did with a lot of thin paper. It felt funny, very slick when she drug her fingertips across it. The text was beautiful. She thought it looked like it had all been printed by hand. But the really amazing part was the artwork. The colors were so rich they almost jumped off the page.
She turned through the first five pages, the ones she’d already studied. (She would have studied the whole thing the first day but Mister Dan wouldn’t let her—he kept saying it was “forbidden” to read too much of it at once. While Alice didn’t necessarily buy into that idea, she figured she owed him, since she was the first person he’d ever shared the book with.) Then she turned back to the fifth page and looked at it again. The whole page was a picture of a scene that gave her goosebumps the first time she saw it, and those goosebumps were sure back now. It showed a small movie theater on what looked like a street in a typical little downtown. And it looked exactly like the Diebold Theater. The colors. The shape and features of the building. Everything. Except, instead of the sign saying DIEBOLD, it said MAGIC.
As strange as the picture was, the text beneath it was stranger:
HERE THE YOUNG GIRL FINDS TRUE LOVE FROM THE ONE WHO CARRIES HER FUTURE.
The sentence made no sense to her at first. Then she was reading a book about a girl who took a train trip across the country by herself. The girl got lost in a big train station and the man who helped her find her way was the man who carried people’s bags for them. He was called a porter.