Mirielle turned open the thick leather cover of her grandmother's book and began to read. Her grandmother's written words were compelling and the story she told came alive. Mirielle felt at once as if she truly knew Kurt Oriel and his friends in the unit. Remarkably, they weren't so different from Angus and Brian: gruff and brave when they thought it was necessary, and gentle and weak when true sorrows came their way. One of Grandpa Kurt's friends, nicknamed Speeo, even reminded Mirielle of Zach with his mischievous pranks. Pearl Oriel had described one particularly ridiculous moment when Speedo had planted a pair of pink, lacey panties under Kurt's pillow, just so he could pretend to discover them in front of the rest of the gang in the morning. She told how Kurt had turned beet red before laughing nervously and wrapping the panties around Speedo's face in such a way that he wouldn't be able to remove them without great difficulty. Speedo had ended up with pink panties around his neck for the greater part of the day for the simple fact that he wouldn't let anyone with a pocket-knife near his neck to cut them off. Mirielle almost cried later in the book when she read about Speedo's untimely and tragic death from an unexpected enemy grenade. Pearl had described the reactions of the other men in his unit, as she'd gathered them from her interviews with them just a few years ago. She told a poignant tale of boys turned into men by the simple tragedy of death. Mirielle couldn't help but think of Angus and what he must've gone through in his experiences with battle and war. No wonder, she thought, he looked so sad sometimes. And she thought that if only Grandmother Pearl had known Angus better, she would have seen how much like her own husband Angus really was, as a soldier and as a friend. Mirielle wiped the tears from her eyes and closed the book at her side. She set it on the end table in the parlor where she'd been sitting, and stood to stretch her legs and walk around the house.
Her thoughts were filled with the light that comes from learning something profound that changes paradigms, and she was somewhat oblivious to anything else in the house as she meandered from the kitchen down the hall, and into the first room on the right. She sat down again in a cushy, black leather desk chair and was looking around at the tall, dark cherry book-case on the wall when she suddenly woke up to where she had wandered. She was sitting in her father's home office, the one room in the house she had never set foot in before. As a child, she hadn't been allowed, because she would have been a distraction to her father's work. As a teenager, she never felt interested enough to explore it, since she found her father's work quite boring and she had quite enough of her own business to mind. Now, though, in her current state of mind, she was interested in everything that had been of no interest to her before. She was on a mission to learn everything about her family's past and she looked at the study with new eyes.
With her new eyes, she surveyed the tall book-case, which was filled with books all colors, backs, and sizes. She burst out in laughter when she saw the bottom shelf, half hidden by the computer desk. Over three dozen, tightly squeezed, bright yellow books lined that shelf, each with a spine reading "Speaking Italian For Dummies" or "French Cuisine For Dummies" or "Raising Smart Kids For Dummies." The titles ranged from computer programming to gardening, all in the "For Dummies" format. The "Wilderness survival for Dummies" edition blared at Mirielle invitingly, but she dared not pull out one book for fear she'd never be able to squeeze it back into place. She turned her attention to the opposite wall where a tall, grandfather clock stood completely still. She reached for the glass cover of the pendulum and wound the key within. Then, a familiar sound emanated from the room. It was the familiar whirring noise she had wondered about the previous evening. She thought it must be a very old clock to need winding so often since it had obviously been wound just the night before. She was in the middle of this thought when, from the corner of her eye, she saw the book-case behind her flipping slowly around. Instead of being surprised or afraid, she was merely tickled and laughed again heartily, shaking her head. "Seriously, you guys," she said out loud to the absent Mr. Benedict and Angus. "Could you be a little more original?" The book-case had opened, revealing a mechanical button-laden console and a door-shaped opening that Mirielle wasn't sure how to close. "Oops," she laughed again. "I'm gonna be busted if I don't figure out how to close this before Dad gets home." She looked at the console. It wasn't so complicated after all, just colorful. One button actually bore the word "CLOSE" on it. But Mirielle wasn't quite ready to push that button yet. Other buttons were labeled with time increments on them: "ONE HOUR" or "TWO HOURS." The largest time increment was a very small, yellow button labeled "BOMB SHELTER- INDEFINITE."
"Alright," Mirielle whispered to herself. "Don't push the yellow button." So, she pushed the "ONE HOUR" button and, to her horror, saw that the door was beginning to close rapidly. She rushed in. In a moment, she was standing in a cool, enclosed darkness and feeling quite foolish for not first discovering a light switch before she rushed into a dark, enclosed place. Arms outstretched, she turned 360 degrees to her left, feeling every wall up and down for any indication of another mechanical console. She found nothing and felt a sinking feeling deep in her gut. She was able to judge only that the hallway was about the same width across as the door itself, though she knew nothing about the length of the chamber. She did the only thing left to do. Stepping cautiously with wide, light steps, Mirielle moved away from the recently shut door and, to her delight, the hallway became flooded with bright light. Motion sensors, she thought. Another original idea. An excited, nervous feeling rose from the pit of her stomach to the center of her chest when the hallway she was walking in suddenly opened up into a room larger than the rest of the house entirely. She struggled in her mind to reconcile the size of the room with any noticeable building that could be seen outside the house, but she knew their neighbors well, and they did not live in a secret chamber like this. She determined that she must be underground somehow, though she remembered no steps into this basement room. Unless, she thought excitedly, the sinking feeling from the hallway had been more than a fear of the dark. Had the floor been sinking down to this level, like an elevator? That would explain why there was no light switch, Mirielle thought sarcastically.The room was also dark for a moment before noticing her presence and brightening at once. Mirielle mouthed "WOW" at the sight of the tremendous room in which she now stood. There were doors all along the four walls, which gave Mirielle the impression that this hidden place was even more expansive than it first appeared. Her awe was interrupted by the gentle vibration of her phone in her pocket. It was her pink phone, not her silver phone, though she half-expected Angus to contact her in a place like this. Instead, the caller ID told her it was Brian. She answered, eager to share her latest discovery with him.
"Brian! You will never believe where I'm standing right now!"
There was no answer and Mirielle thought for a moment that they had been disconnected. "Brian? Are you there?" she said again.
"You stood me up, Miri," came Brian's quiet voice. He sounded really hurt. "I called you last night to talk about it and you didn't even answer or call me back."
"Oh my gosh, I'm so sorry, Brian! I completely forgot. I mean, Angus--He's--"
"It's okay. I know he's more important to you than me. I just thought, being your best friend and all--"
"Brian, no. You don't understand. Angus is dead." She said it without emotion, without trembling lips, perhaps because she didn't really believe it yet. She still felt as though Angus were merely testing her. And her lack of emotion is exactly what made it so difficult for Brian to believe her.
"Come on, Miri, you don't have to make anything up like that. I don't want Angus to die, I just want to have some time with you too, sometimes. Is that so much to ask?"
"Brian, I'm not making it up. Yesterday morning I woke up to find the police in my kitchen. They told me his house blew up, or rather, his whole block blew up. They found no remains. His house was leveled! I just needed to get out of the house and away, so I went out to Ernest Peaks. I completely forgot about our lunch."
Silence again filled Mirielle's ear while Brian thought about what he should say.
"Are you okay?" he finally asked.
"Yeah, Brian," Mirielle's tone softened. "I really am. I wasn't for a while, but everything happens for a reason. I know that now."
"Miri, he's your godfather, your favorite person in the whole world! How can you not care about this?"
"I do care, Brian!" Mirielle was struggling to make him understand everything she'd been through in the past forty-eight hours. "It sucks that he's gone, but who knows if he's really dead, Brian? He could have been away from the house when it happened. He could be anywhere."
Brian was quiet again for a moment. "Miri, if he was still out there, don't you think he'd have contacted you by now?" His voice was gentle. Mirielle had expected this response from him, but she hadn't expected to feel angry when he said out loud what she herself had wondered a hundred times.
"He's not dead, Brian!" she said firmly. "He just can't reach us yet. It isn't safe. Look, you should come over right now. My parents are gone, and you have got to see what I found in my dad's office."
Brian was still feeling confused by the information about Angus and didn't know what else to say. He did want to see Mirielle. In fact, he had felt a slight ache to see her since he left her birthday party two days before.
"I'll be over in a minute."
"Okay, go into my dad's office, it's a right from the kitchen hallway, wind the clock, and press the ONE HOUR button. Meet me down here." Mirielle hung up before Brian could ask her what ONE HOUR button she was talking about or remind her that her house didn't have a basement.
Mirielle took a moment to recover from Brian's unwelcome reminder that Angus might really be dead. She lay down on a black leather sofa nearest the entrace to the room and fought the oncoming tears in her throat. Exhausted from emotion, she quickly fell asleep and woke only when Brian emerged from the hallway yelling "Holy crap!"
"Oh, sorry, Miri. Didn't mean to wake you. Think you might have told me you were napping in a secret bomb shelter that your psycho spy godfather built." Brian seemed a mixture of annoyed and delighted. "Who are you people?"
Mirielle was awake, but groggy. "I'm just a victim," she yawned. "I had no idea this was here until about twenty minutes ago."
"Speaking of that, the clock will run for another hour while we're down here, but I've a feeling that when our time's up, the lights will turn off and the door will re-lock. We might even get locked in ourselves, so let's try to make sure we're only down here an hour."
Mirielle nodded and smiled at Brian. "You're so smart," she gushed. "I shoulda talked to you about this yesterday. You could have figured it out much sooner than I did."
"You found this yesterday?" Brian asked as he examined a coffee table that seemed to be topped with a movie screen-like surface.
"Oh, no. I mean the other things. The computer and phone and stuff. Angus's birthday gift."
Brian stopped in his tracks. "I almost forgot," he said thoughtfully, sitting beside her on the leather sofa. "What happened exactly? Did he hint at anything that would explain his house being blown up?"
Mirielle was completely awake now. "Yes, he did," she said resolutely. "I was so stupid, Brian. I didn't even get what he was saying all through dinner. The entire event was his goodbye to me and I had no idea."
"Quit beating yourself up about it. Angus is a mysterious guy. You only caught onto the things he wanted you to catch. I've a feeling he wouldn't have it any other way." Brian seemed irritated when he said this, and Mirielle was just beginning to understand how jealous Brian must be of Angus for all of Mirielle's attention.
"Brian," she began. "I'm sorry I haven't always been there when you needed me. Sometimes I can be a flakey friend."
"You're not flakey," Brian insisted. "Just forgetful when you're with Angus. Anyway, I get it. He's like your fairy godmother, but with spy stories to boot." He smiled and so did Mirielle.
"I never had a crush on him, though," Miri said boldly, looking steadily at Brian. He was looking down when she said it and when he looked up, he was almost startled by the intensity of her gaze.
"You had a crush on me?" Brian asked innocently, with a slightly higher voice than usual.
"Don't act like you couldn't tell," Mirielle laughed. "You know I'm crazy about you." This time Mirielle looked down, trying to hide the blush of her face.
"Really?" Brian smiled. "Well, that's a relief."
Mirielle looked up, trying to read his meaning in his face.
"I thought it was just me." Brian said, and he moved closer to Mirielle, taking her hand.
"You're the only guy I ever think about when I'm not with you," Mirielle went on, still not looking at Brian. The butterflies in her stomach from the sight of the room were nothing compared to the butterflies she felt when Brian touched her hand. "And you're the first friend to call when I really need a shoulder, even if you don't know why." She was somewhat rambling now, merely to avoid what she feared would be an awkward silence if she stopped.
"I like you, too," Brian smiled, gently pulling her chin upward so their eyes met. Then the ache in Brian's own chest disappeared and he bowed down his head and kissed Mirielle's forehead sweetly, making Mirielle feel very dizzy. She wrapped her arms around her best friend and rested her head on his shoulder. She felt very safe for the first time in two days.
After a few long moments of lying there together in complete peace, Brian glanced at his watch and said, "If we want to explore this place, we've got exactly thirty-six minutes before we're locked in."
Mirielle looked up at him lazily. Then she kissed him on the lips quickly, and bounced off the sofa, ready to go.
Brian sat on the sofa, hypnotized for a moment by the unexpected kiss. "Or, we could sit on the couch for another half hour. We don't need that much time to explore, right?" he said sheepishly.
Mirielle laughed and sat back down to kiss him again, and before they knew it, they had ten minutes left of their original hour.
"Okay, we really gotta get going now," Brian said regretfully, looking at his watch again.
"Yeah, I know," Mirielle said, making a funny face at Brian that made him want to tackle her. "Well, we'd better check what's behind all these doors before we go, at least." Mirielle was walking toward one of the doors very quickly, as if running away from Brian (in case he really did try to tackle her).
He followed closely behind her and looked into each room as she opened the doors. The first door led to a bathroom. The second led to a bedroom, which Mirielle shut very quickly, making them both laugh.