Aaron didn’t often go to the old Fairgrove Library. It was dusty and its budget had been falling for some time and he wasn’t much of a reader anyway. He preferred sports. Still, it was a quiet place, as libraries are, and that was what Aaron needed at the moment.
He had just graduated the night before—Fairgrove High School, Class of 1998. His classmates (or, he supposed, former classmates now) were planning and throwing all sorts of parties to celebrate the end of this stage of their lives and the beginnings of the next.
In fact, he’d just come from one such party. It was a pool party, at Jordan Owens’ house. Aaron had spent most of his time there standing in the corner, drinking some soda.
It wasn’t that he was antisocial, per se. Aaron was simply never sure what to actually say to people. He preferred to act instead of speaking, but even then it wasn’t like excelled. He was an average football player—not a star quarterback or a perpetual bench warmer—and he didn’t interact with even his teammates all that much outside of games or practice.
But he’d forced himself to go to that party. Jordan Owens was the star quarterback, after all. And now Aaron needed somewhere quiet to calm down and reorient himself. The library seemed as good a place for that as any.
Aaron drifted about the shelves and the stacks until he eventually made his way to the darkest corner of the library, where dust gathered on old leatherbacks and the musty smell of old pages filled the air. He leaned against the wall and he closed his eyes, just letting himself relax.
And when he opened his eyes again, they fell immediately upon a book on a nearby shelf. He couldn’t be certain what it was about this book that drew his attention. It was just some old leatherback that had seen better days. But there was something oddly magnetic about it.
He read the title on the spine:
The Book of Lives Unlived
Curiosity filled him, and Aaron reached out and pulled the odd book from the shelf. There weren’t any library stickers on it, he noticed. Aaron opened it to a random page.
Aaron took a deep breath to calm his nerves as he approached Gracie. Could he really do this? Not for the first time, he went through what he would say in his head. He had to get this right.
This… this had happened. This was his life. Aaron stared at the page in confusion. He’d wanted to ask Gracie to prom, but hadn’t been able to work up the nerve. What was this doing written down in this old book?
He kept reading.
“Gracie?” Aaron asked. She turned away from her locker and looked at him quizzically.
Standing there, under her bright blue gaze, Aaron wasn’t sure if he could do this. His heart pounded. But there was no going back now.
“I think you’re pretty, um, cool,” he said, internally wincing at how awkward he sounded. She must think he sounded so creepy. “I was wondering if you’d like to go to prom with me?”
Gracie stared at him for what seemed like an eternity. “Oh,” she said at last. “I’m so sorry, Aaron. But, you see, Peter already asked me, so…”
“Oh,” said Aaron. “I see.”
“Sorry!” Gracie said again, and she hurried away.
This… didn’t make any sense. Aaron furrowed his brow in confusion. He’d never actually asked her, and Gracie hadn’t gone to prom with Peter anyway. Was the Gracie in the book lying so she could spare his feelings?
But why? What was up with this weird book?
The questions swirled about Aaron’s head, but he read on.
“Tough break, man,” a voice said behind him. Aaron turned to see Gracie’s friend Cindy standing there, giving him a sympathetic smile.
While Gracie was blonde and a cheerleader and well-liked by most everyone, Cindy was none of those things. She preferred the grungy look, with oversized plaid shirts, and dyed her hair black. She and Gracie were something of an odd pair, but had apparently been friends since they were children.
“It’s alright,” Aaron sighed. “I guess it’s small wonder that someone already asked her.”
A frown flickered across Cindy’s face. “I think you’re the first one, actually.”
“What? But she said—”
“She lied,” Cindy told him. “I’m sorry.”
Aaron stared at her, dumbfounded. “So… she just didn’t want to go with me?”
Cindy looked away from him. “Sorry. Look, um, if you… you know, if you still want to go…” Her face turned red. “Well, nobody’s asked me yet.”
Aaron continued reading. The book told a story that had never happened, recounting how he’d taken Cindy to prom, been stunned by her dress, how she’d confessed to a land-standing crush on him. The Gracie in the book even revealed at the dance that the reason she’d turned him down was because she’d known of her friend’s feelings.
None of this had happened. Aaron hadn’t even ended up going to prom. But… could this have happened? If he’d actually mustered up the courage to ask Gracie out, would this have been how things went down?
Aaron closed the book and returned it to the shelf. Gracie was having her own end-of-year party tomorrow, and Cindy would certainly be there. He decided that he would talk to her.
Cindy supposed there were worse places to live than Fairgrove. Sure, it was a small town, but the people here were friendly and she had a decent life and a decent husband.
And, she thought as she smiled down at the little girl holding her hand, the most perfect little daughter.
Tara had just turned four. The small girl was looking about the library with wide eyes. Cindy was pretty sure it was the first time her daughter had ever been here. The Fairgrove Library had undergone a series of renovations the year before, and was looking better and more modern than ever.
There was an event here today; a little storybook reading for young children. Cindy thought it would be a good event for Tara.
Her daughter joined the other children in sitting and reading the story, and Cindy found herself wandering about the bookshelves. She’d been married only a year after high school—Cindy still remembered that day at her friend Gracie’s graduation party when Aaron had approached. It had been like a minor miracle to her teenage mind; she’d had such a crush on him for so long.
Cindy had been overjoyed when he asked her out. Since he was working with his dad as a contractor, Cindy had ended up postponing her college plans to remain in Fairgrove with him, and before long the two were married.
And then, two years after that, little Tara came into their lives.
She drifted out of her reverie and realized that she’d wandered into a dark corner of the library, where the shelves were covered in old books that looked like they hadn’t been touched in ages. Her eyes were drawn, as if by some force, to one tome in particularly: The Book of Lives Unlived.
Something about it seemed to call to her, and Cindy reached out and pulled the strange old book from the shelf. She flipped it open and began to read…
It wasn’t an easy decision for Cindy to go off to college, but she knew that Aaron would understand. She was destined for greater things than Fairgrove, and dreamed of being a musician. She wanted to study songwriting and musical theory, but Fairgrove simply wasn’t the town for that.
Cindy stared at the page in confusion. It was almost as if someone had written down her life, except… a different version of it. She had wanted to go to college to study music, but she’d chosen to stay with Aaron instead.
She turned over to a different page and started reading again.
After so many months apart, she had seen it coming. Cindy thought it would hurt more than it actually had when Aaron said those words on that phone call: “I think we should break up.” But instead of the expected pain, she had felt only relief.
The truth was, she admitted now, that she’d fallen out of love with him some time ago, and keeping up this charade of a long-distance relationship was just too taxing.
Now, though? Now Cindy was free to focus on her studies. Her professors said that she had real talent, and the band she’d started with Kelly and Tina was coming along nicely.
This wasn’t possible. There was no way her life could have gone like this, had she chosen to go off to college. And if there was, then how could this book possibly know?
Cindy turned over even more pages, until she found herself pausing to read another passage.
“Here we are,” Cindy said, handing the sheet to Nate. He looked over the music.
He hummed along as he read, then nodded. “Good stuff,” he said. “That last song was a big hit, and I think this song would be a good fit for Esther.”
Cindy considered this. “I thought this one was for Tina?”
“You know that Tina’s better with the low notes,” Nate told her. “I’ll shop it around a bit, but I think Esther would be the best fit.”
She shrugged. No skin off her teeth. About half the stars in the industry had performed at least one of her songs by this point. Cindy had long since stopped caring about who sang what, so long as her music was out there.
Cindy closed the book, shocked. “I could have been a songwriter,” she muttered. “I could have been a songwriter!” She put the book back on the shelf.
Tara’s reading hour was probably close to finished by now. She started heading back to her daughter, her head swimming. She could have been a songwriter. Her music could have been enjoyed by thousands—no, millions.
And instead… she was here.
No, no. She had a child now. That had to be her priority. It was no use thinking about what could have been. Her family was here in Fairgrove, and that was what mattered.
This was fine.
Tara was in the library often.
She liked the quiet. Well, no, that wasn’t right. She liked the peaceful quiet. The quiet back home was tense and anxious. Her dad was a bundle of nerves who’d never remarried, and when her mom had her, there was always a stream of probing questions and presents from her and whoever her latest husband was.
Tara wasn’t dumb. She knew that her parents’ divorce had been lengthy and bitter and painful. She knew that it had left scars on both of them that had never fully healed. Sometimes—oftentimes, really—it was easier to just get lost in the world of a book rather than deal with all that.
Even as a child, she’d felt the divorce coming. It had finally happened back in 2010, when Tara was just 9 years old. Sometimes she wondered what would have happened if she’d begged them to stay together. Would they have listened?
Probably not. There was bad blood between them, and with how often they fought, divorce had probably been for the best. Now, seven years later, Tara was entering her last year of high school, and neither of them had ever actually moved on.
She had two homes, two families, two Christmases, two birthdays, and sometimes all she wanted to do was get away from all of them. Books were the best method she’d found of doing so. Well, books and a certain someone. She smiled at the thought.
Over her years coming here, Tara had read through most of the fantasy and science fiction section, and she’d recently started making a serious dent in the romances and historical fiction. But she wasn’t in the mood for any of those sorts of books today. Instead, she was exploring the library, looking for anything that seemed interesting.
And that was how Tara had found herself in a strange corner, looking at an odd old book titled The Book of Lives Unlived.
There was something magnetic about it. Something that drew her eye and refused to let go. She reached out and pulled it from the shelf, then opened it to a random page and started reading.
“Please don’t break up!” Tara pleaded, her nine-year-old face set in determination. “Stay together! Please! Do it for me!”
Her parents stared at her, dumbstruck.
“What the hell…?” Tara scanned over the rest of the page, trying to wrap her head around what she was seeing. It recounted how her parents had promised to work on their marriage and stay together. It was… almost like someone had taken a childhood fantasy of hers and transcribed it to paper.
This page was toward the beginning of the book. Tara flipped over to one near the end and read:
She was tired. Her parents tried to hide their fights from her, but Tara wasn’t deaf and she wasn’t dumb. Who did they think they were fooling? She heard them going at it all night, cursing and spitting at each other.
This morning, her mom had left for work early, before Tara had even gotten up. So instead she’d decided to confront her dad about it. He tried to change the subject, like he always did, but like the stubborn fool she was, Tara had pressed him on it even though she knew what he was going to say.
“We stay together for you.”
She wished they didn’t.
So now here she was at school, feeling like absolute garbage. Her entire life was falling apart in slow motion, and here was that little bitch Margaret, in front of her locker again. Nobody liked Margaret. Nobody liked Tara either, really, but at least she wasn’t Margaret.
“Get out of my way,” Tara spat, shoving the girl away.
“I’m sorry!” Margaret said meekly. “My locker’s right next to yours, so…”
“I don’t care,” Tara interrupted. “Stupid fucking dyke—”
Tara slammed the book shut.
She was shaking. Tears were running down her face. She couldn’t keep reading this… this awful trash.
Shoving the book back onto its place on the shelf, she hurried away, doing her best to try and push the words out of her mind. But the scene described in the book just kept playing on in her head, and even though it had never actually happened, the guilt was too much for her to bear.
Tara pulled out her phone and sent a quick text to Maggie. She was the only one allowed to call her “Maggie.”
It took a moment for Maggie’s reply to come through.
> Yeah. Y?
>Wanna see you
>Aw. <3 well come on over!
Wiping the tears from her eyes, Tara left the library and headed off to her girlfriend’s house.
Seann Barbour is an indie author who writes a little bit of everything, but mostly fantasy & horror. When not writing, he works with dogs. You can find his fiction at Patreon.com/SeannWritesStuff