What Lies Underneath

Submitted into Contest #91 in response to: Set your story in a library, after hours.... view prompt


Inspirational Teens & Young Adult

Dear Robert,

Thank you so very much for your letter. Don’t let it get to your head, but I might’ve even liked it better than the shirt signed by Michael B. Jordan. Possibly. Speaking of that dreamboat, I read that they’ve cast Angela Bassett to play his mom. Please, please, please get me her autograph. I’ve got one page left on that autograph book we got at Disney World and I’ve already reserved it for her. Before you think up an excuse, I can imagine you and the entire crew are barely spared a moment for such frivolous activities as fulfilling the lifelong dreams of little sisters. But hey, it’s not everyday I can say my brother works on what BuzzFeed promises to be the biggest movie of the summer. And since I always play fair (for the hundredth time, I did not cheat during the Thanksgiving poker game), I’ll do something you’ve been pestering me about while you work on approaching the lovely Ms. Bassett. I will – drumroll please – finally watch the beloved, the iconic, the one and only ‘The Breakfast Club’. 

Wherefore hath this idea sprung into my mind suddenly, you may ask? When your previous – and might I add, countless – attempts at persuasion were all in vain? I was actually inspired by the people sitting right in front of me. I don’t know if Mom mentioned but I decided to forgo Winter Ball this year. I’m just glad I told her over the phone because we both know what would’ve happened if it was in person. Anyways, while every other member of Program Board battled it out for their Winter Ball responsibilities, I self-elected to stay on campus to organize a small event for the few (potentially non-existent) souls who didn’t want to spend their Friday night pulling alcohol out of their undergarments and costing the college thousands of dollars in damage fines when they’d inevitably aim their puke or fall at the wrong place. So that brings us to tonight. While the rest of the student body ate early dinners at the cafeteria to make time for the customary pregaming, I got my cardio in running between the floors of the library and hiding clues. I was fairly certain no one would show even though the concept of an after-hours treasure hunt was well-received by my test audience (otherwise known as our dear parents). So you can imagine my surprise when, as Connie the library supervisor bid me adieu and good luck shortly after the last bus to Winter Ball departed, the population of the first floor of the Reddington College Library didn’t remain at one for long. In fact, within a minute of the library’s usual closing time, my event had four punctual attendees. 

My first impression of those kindred spirits, who, like me, didn’t consider having the same breathing space as a canned sardine fun, was that they could successfully audition as a group for a Breakfast Club reboot. Having been a silent participant for many, if not all, of your theses-like discussions and your actual thesis presentation on the John Hughes classic, I boxed them into their most suitable stereotype before I had even handed over the first clue. I mean, it did help that I was almost certainly the only one of the two thousand currently roaming Reddington’s halls who could read minds. Safe assumption, wouldn’t you say? And please don’t bother repeating your usual question. It’s always “Hi Lizzie, how are you, have you told your friends yet?” with you. I’ve made it to senior year without revealing any thoughts they never verbalized, and I plan to graduate that way, thank you very much. The mind-reading has been very helpful in finding out exactly what professors want but I really think it would be too high a hurdle for any friendship to leap over. I’m definitely not so naïve to hope that anyone would react the way you did. Come on, I don’t think they’ve even heard of “About Time” to be able to appreciate the similarities. 

Now back to the movie at play. With my – how should we put this? – specific skill set, no one at Reddington was a complete stranger. The minds before me were no exception to my empire, having been invaded at least once in passing. But the past few hours has presented me a rare opportunity to venture freely into relatively unexplored mental territory. And as I write this letter, I feel inclined to share that my powers have never served me better than tonight. You see, people (perhaps I should add, of substance) always think much more than they end up saying.  

The rebel: I started to realize so as they completed the Sudoku puzzle that accompanied the second clue. Raphael Montez, who has always appeared the silent, brooding type, was filling it in almost singlehandedly, leaving his teammates in awe of his prodigy. But he didn’t receive their compliments with a smirk or any general smugness. He just politely explained that his mom had taught him as a kid, walking them through the answers he found much quicker than them. As he did so, a sepia image painted across my mind of a young woman working through a Sudoku with a boy on her lap, with whom she shared a freezer dinner and a closet-sized studio apartment. Then, the same woman, her hair now greyed and her smile lines deepened, flashed in my brain. She was crying in a doctor’s office and Raphael’s hand protectively encased her worn shoulders. I recognized her as one of the custodians who spends most of her time in the arts building. I looked at Raphael and the sorrow in his eyes betrayed his sheepish smile. When asked why he didn’t join the puzzles club, he claimed noncommittally that he was unable to make the commitment. His thoughts revealed exactly why. He was always so quiet because he couldn’t relate to conversations. Because his free time wasn’t spent on what he would like to do but what he had to do. Because he was always wondering what college would’ve been like if he wasn’t rushing between multiple jobs and maintaining grades that would hold onto his scholarship. Because cancer treatment for the uninsured is virtually unpayable and no one knows what to say to someone who can’t afford a subsidized ticket to Winter Ball. 

The princess: As they approached the halfway point, I wanted to “spice” things up and entertain myself with a quick spicy noodle challenge. It was not as entertaining as it was enlightening since Yasmeen Abdaal had no difficulty in downing a bowl of the stuff without so much as a blush of the cheeks. Which was unexpected from a person who I have only ever seen eat salads that resemble rabbit food. When she looked up from the bowl, her teammates’ jaws rested on the carpeted floor, and her golden brown curls bounced with her laughter. Her presence in the library tonight was perhaps the most startling – her group of popular Hydro-Flask-wielding friends were a mainstay of the dismal nightlife this college typically offers so she was almost guaranteed to be at the biggest social event of the year. Her football captain boyfriend was a real estate heir and there were rumors floating around that her father was an actual sheikh. I mean, they’re a movie couple. So I was eagerly awaiting her response when someone asked why she hadn’t gone. Her splendent smile convinced them that she really didn’t feel like as she had been at all the previous ones but her mind spun through an infinite catalogue of previous parties, where mild variations of the same thing kept happening. Each time, she tiredly declined her friends’ incessant offers of alcohol. Once, she even explained she chooses not to drink for religious reasons but that too didn’t save her from the endless, exhausting Groundhog Day. (Please be proud of that movie reference.) She wasn’t lying when she said she didn’t go to Winter Ball because she didn’t want to. She didn’t want to be the sober friend again. To be surrounded by people who didn’t know if Dubai was her hometown or her last name. To be labelled a prude when she didn’t follow them into drunkenness or dress the same way or make out with her perfect boyfriend. 

The jock: You know I couldn’t have a treasure hunt without some good old-fashioned trivia. But not everyone grew up with someone like our father who quizzes his children on world affairs during the drive to school. So I was more than a little concerned that no one would know the answers and they’d give up on the treasure hunt and just beat me to death for the key to get out or something. Okay, yes, I’ll admit that escalated quickly. But you know how I feel about trivia. Apparently, Alexander Dunn, former star of the basketball team, feels the same way. And not just since his recent career-ending injury. Since forever! He might even know more than me. Please scratch out the previous sentence after you read it because I would not like such declarations to be out in the universe for long. People used to call him ‘Flash’ for how quickly he drove the ball from one side of the court to the other but I honestly think he ran through my questions even faster. I even asked them who the second secretary-general of the UN was. He knew Dag Hammarskjold! What?! He was the only one who wasn’t asked the reason for his absence from Winter Ball. Either because they assumed he couldn’t do much dancing with crutches or they were too scared to remind 6 feet 7 inches of lean muscle of an incident that shattered his kneecap and future in basketball. But they didn’t have to ask. Whenever anyone brought up Winter Ball, his left fist unwittingly clenched as his mind flicked to his girlfriend. Or should I say his ex-girlfriend. Turns out I wasn’t the only one who knew him only as an athlete. In Kara’s case, she didn’t really want to know him as anything else so Alex was promptly replaced by his own best friend and current captain of the basketball team as her date for the dance. In his distracted glances, he was fighting not just against the future he had once planned out but the quicksand past that sucked him into a life that was no longer his. 

The brain: Okay, you might say that I went too far but I really wanted to ramp things up for the grand finale so the last clue was hidden in a particularly out-of-reach spot. Like almost every action movie ever, the protagonists of this tale needed to crawl into an air vent. I actually had to get special permission for that and it was no cakewalk placing the clue but I figured this too would amuse me into the early hours of the morning. I guess what actually amused me more was that of all the people to volunteer as tribute, Priya Cooper stepped forward. In all fairness, she is probably the most familiar with the library having spent the majority of the past three and a half years in it. I swear I’m not trying to shame her. I’m quite envious of her ability to study for hours on end without a single distraction. That skill would have saved me a lot of sleepless cram nights. I bet Priya’s never had to write a ten-page paper the day before it was due. But even with her spotless academic record and the amazing job she’s got lined up after she graduates early this December, her mind was drained by regret. As she clambered onto Raphael’s shoulders, she was fuelled by the desire to simply do something that didn’t work towards a goal or fit neatly into a plan. To do not what was expected (Winter Balling) but rather entirely out of character (Mission-Impossibling into a metal box). Even as her upper body disappeared into the vent, she seemed more comfortable than I had ever seen her. It’s like under the unapproachable genius layer imposed on her lay a girl who just wanted to have fun. Just like Cyndi Lauper said. 

They solved the last clue a while ago. They still haven’t asked for the key. While they’ve been cramming years of conversation into one night, I’ve been writing this letter to you. Putting them to paper, I can focus on my own thoughts for once. I can’t help but wonder – why hadn’t they spoken to each other before? Are people so strictly defined into tiny, neat boxes and wrapped in tiny, neat bows that chain them away? But weren’t they proof that people are so much more complicated than they seem? That we can’t be defined by any one aspect of our personalities, histories and backgrounds? As they began to confide in one another the real reasons for their paths’ convergence at the library tonight, I could understand why this movie became the object of your obsession. And no, I know the answer goes beyond “80’s queen Molly Ringwald”. It’s comforting to know that we’re not just one thing. 

Having learnt that in four different ways tonight, I think I’m finally equipped to confront the fetters that have imprisoned me since last year’s dance. I had been fluttering between the heaviness of what happened and the anger at myself for letting it happen. For knowing what he wanted to do and ignoring every warning until my brain had screamed itself sore. For agreeing to go to the afterparty. For not telling anyone about it until you visited months later. But in the elaborate cage I built to keep myself safe tonight, it was I who found a key. I am so much more than the speechless object he tried to reduce me to. I’m a mind-reader but I don’t know everything. A survivor but I’m still healing. I am me.

Most sincerely, 

Your darling sister, 


April 30, 2021 16:15

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Unknown User
17:49 Jun 10, 2021

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08:57 Jun 11, 2021

Thank you so much! I couldn't agree more - it's really interesting (and sad!) to think about what could have happened. There's this sort of sense of regret. And thank you for the idea of continuing the story. I had loads of fun trying the epistolary style for this one so I would honestly love to continue exploring this character and her story.


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