The girl pulled the brush through the wavy skein of light brown hair. The flickering light from the wall sconce flashed against the golden threads. She stared at her reflection in the mirror. The white cotton dress sat softly against the skin of her tiny frame. She settled the brush gently on top of the dresser and took a deep breath. Today she would ask about it, would stop putting it off. She pressed her hand against the fabric just below her ribcage. When she removed her fingers, the fabric rippled a dull, liquidy silver before settling back to the crisp white. With a deep breath, she closed her eyes. It was too soon.
A knock at the door drew her attention. “Miss Sascha,” The housemaid’s gaunt face peaked through the entry, “The professor is ready for you in the library.”
“Thank you Priscilla. You can tell him I’ll be down in a moment.” Still looking in the mirror, she waved the old maid off distractedly.
“Right away Miss.”
“Thank you.” Sascha pressed her fingers to her stomach again, waited for the fabric to change, but nothing happened.
“Don’t forget your book.” Priscilla tilted her head towards the open book on the desk before silently withdrawing from the room.
The hard soles of the girl’s boots clipped against the floor as she made her way to the book. Picking up the soft, thin volume, she hugged it to her chest. This was important. So very important. Everything leading up to what she had to tell the professor was in this book. The leather beneath her fingers was buttery soft from generations of use. Her stomach tightened in anticipation.
She had been meeting with the professor several times a week for a quad-year. Preparing for the day when her job would begin. Today was the first day she had ever been nervous. That was because of what happened last night. There had been glimpses before, but this had been so much more than that. This had been a full, unsettling, exhilarating experience.
The thick carpeting on the stairs swallowed the sound of her footsteps as she made her way down to the family library. She brushed past the two maids who took care of the elder wing. Too distracted to even acknowledge them as she normally would.
At the large wooden door, she paused, took a deep breath and pushed the release button in the centre. The door split and slid into its designated wall notches, releasing the unmistakable smell of old leather, paper and ink.
“Professor?” Sascha called into the room.
“Back here.” She heard the soft voice waft from within the room. At the third row of shelves, she turned to find her instructor searching through a pile of books. The periwinkle robe that identified the professors hung heavily from the teacher’s frame, pooling on the floor. Sascha instinctually thought of her professor as a he, but no one really knew what they were. No one had ever seen one without its cloak. The heavy hoods fell forward to create a black hole where the face should be, and no matter how many times Sascha had tried to get a good look, she’d never seen anything beneath the folds. The professor’s hands were always covered in pristine white gloves that protected the pages of the books they held so dear.
She took a seat in the large crimson chair near the reading table, slipped her boots from her feet and curled her legs under her. Her book sat in her lap. Her fingers played delicately across surface. There were no visible markers but her fingers found every familiar groove. She would know her book from someone else’s without ever having to open the cover.
Reaching over to the reading table, she found the button built into the side of the decorative wood. A girl only a few years younger than herself appeared almost instantly.
“Yes Miss Sascha?” Her eyes directed towards the carpet, away from both Sascha and the professor.
“Tea and a blueberry scone for me, please. The usual for the professor.”
“Yes ma’am.” She nodded and disappeared back into the stacks.
“A moment, Sascha. I need to make a notation on this passage before we get started.” Her teacher held up a gloved finger, his back still turned to her. His other hand slid swiftly across the paper, words tumbling from his fingers to the page. The professors had the ability to transpose their thoughts to paper without the hindrance of an inkwell and pen. Every time Sascha witnessed this, she thought about herself, hunched over her desk, carefully writing out her assignments in her book, constantly dipping the pen and waiting for the ink to dry, and she felt a surge of jealousy.
“It happened.” Her annoyance drove her to ignore her professor’s request for time. The cloaked head swung towards her. His curiosity clear, even without the benefit of expression. The words flowing from the hand stopped instantly. She had his attention.
“Are you very sure?” The gloved fingers clenched together anxiously. Sascha nodded. “Tell me exactly what happened.” The professor sunk into the chair across from her. His cloak billowed out to encompass the seat. It looked as if he was floating. Sascha wasn’t entirely sure that he wasn’t. Wasn’t sure that his cloak hadn’t actually engulfed the chair into non-existence. The professors could probably do that if they wanted.
“They called her by another name, but she was the one. I’m certain of it.”