For the second night in a row, Hayleigh was not able to get any sleep.
Despite the fatigue weighing heavily on her eyelids, she lay in bed at two in the morning, wide-awake with her cellphone in hand. She ignored Rowen’s texts for the rest of the day and did not come over his place. For a second she’d been sorely tempted to answer when he called, but that mysterious girl’s words stopped her from picking up.
You’re not his first.
Hayleigh had nothing against previous girlfriends. She had no right to begrudge a history she wasn’t a part of, but for him to have dated other students before…
He’ll get over you and move on to the next one.
That girl must’ve known Rowen for some time now, but could she really trust the words of a stranger? She’d give anything to shake it off, but it didn’t help that Tara’s same words had echoed in her mind again. Even if she told Tara about it, her friend didn’t seem likely to understand anyway.
After a few hours of tossing and turning, Hayleigh awoke groggily to the sound of her alarm going off. She was just about to disable it when another message appeared. It was from the same unrecognized number.
Clue #1: Library, aisle 17. Red book.
It had been sent two hours ago when she had fallen asleep. It immediately woke her up, as if she’d just downed a pint of caffeine. Now her mind was on overdrive again, restless and agitated. It still escaped her how that girl had figured out Hayleigh’s phone number, but now it was inconsequential compared to the grave possibility that everything would finally be exposed. She was falling right into that girl’s trap, but now with the first ‘clue’ out, she had to keep playing.
Perhaps there was an explanation behind everything. There had to be.
The library was littered with students, but one of the farther aisles of the Humanities section was presently uninhabited as Hayleigh stood before a long stretch of shelves. The sign above her read 17, and the number practically burned into her eye sockets from staring at it for too long. She’d lingered down this section for the last five minutes, half-wondering, half-afraid of what she’d find here.
It had only been a week ago when she’d last been in the library, sneaking in with Rowen for a quickie. She’d argued about his reckless choice of location, even though it had been at night with hardly anyone around. Now, the mere memory of it made her chest tighten. Rowen had sent her another text this morning, to which she was yet to respond to.
With a deep breath, Hayleigh began to scan the shelves for any red titles, but it was a surprisingly uncommon color in a sea of black, green, and brown books.
Hayleigh was nearly about to give up when a leather book with a faded, crimson spine appeared before her, sandwiched between two encyclopedias. It was a battered-looking copy of Milton’s Paradise Lost with its pages spotted with age. There seemed nothing remarkable as she flipped through the pages, with no notes or dog-eared marks for her to find. At the very back was an old borrower’s card, last taken out almost six years ago. None of the names rang a bell to her.
Hayleigh closed the book with a sigh. This was useless. Either she was missing something or this was all some wild goose chase. Maybe that girl was simply pulling her leg for reasons yet to be discovered.
She pushed the book back in the shelf and noticed a tiny hole in its spine just then. Like pierced with a thick needle it was too small to be obvious, but up close something glassy protruded from it, almost like a—
Her hand froze.
It couldn’t possibly be a camera.
No. Why would a camera be planted inside a book? What was it monitoring?
Her blood ran cold.
She retreated several steps as her back the shelves. It couldn’t be. That time she’d been here with Rowen, they simply went to the very back of the library. It could’ve been any aisle but this one.
She brought trembling fingers to her lips. Did that girl own the camera? Was that how she found out? If so, a very incriminating piece of evidence was in her hands and was more than enough to destroy Hayleigh’s whole life.
She almost jumped when her phone vibrated in her pocket. A message from the same number.
English Literature, Room 304. Ask K.M. - What hath night to do with sleep?
Confusion briefly ebbed the spreading terror in her veins. That last sentence made no sense whatsoever.
What the hell was going on?
Rowen eyed the empty chair where Hayleigh usually sat.
It almost taunted him while the rest of his students kept their heads low in the middle of an impromptu exam. It was the only way he could get out of lecturing, not when Hayleigh’s first absence in class coincided with her lack of response over the last forty-eight hours. His eyes shifted from her vacant seat by the window to the cellphone on his desk, but there was still no sign of her whatsoever.
He hadn’t caught a glimpse of her down the hallways today either. Contacting the same person several times in one day was an exception he rarely did for anyone, and this was how she would act? God, as soon as he saw her, he was fucking her to clear the last stage, win the game, and end everything.
Rowen stopped twirling his pen and gripped it tight. Perhaps he’d ambush her in her dorm and demand why she was ignoring him. At least he’d be assured she wasn’t missing, or hurt.
Stellar fucking timing, Hayleigh, he angrily thought. Where the fuck are you?
Hayleigh stood in front of Room 304 with her books close to her chest as she took solace in a corner amid the throng of students down the hallway. It was almost three o’clock on her watch, five minutes before the next class.
According to the student office, the only English Literature class held in Room 304 was with Prof. Michaels. Luckily the next clue fit right in today’s schedule, even though she was still shaken from her discovery of the camera in the library. Within the last two hours she’d fought not to hurl and break down in panic; even debated whether or not to confront Rowen immediately. There were too many questions running through her mind, but she still wanted to give Rowen the benefit of the doubt.
The bell rang as a fresh wave of students emerged from the doors. Hayleigh discreetly entered the room with a few others and sat in the back of the room while scanning everyone’s faces.
What hath night to do with sleep? What did that mean? Who in the world was K.M. and what did he or she have to do with all of this?
Hayleigh restlessly drummed her fingers in her seat. She had the dire urge to just run home and never come out again. If the camera had indeed caught her and Rowen, that video could be anywhere by now, spreading like wildfire. She could be part of a campus-wide scandal in a matter of hours. She’d be kicked out, reputation forever tarnished—and God, what would her parents think?
A sandy-haired man who looked to be in his late twenties entered the room as he placed his things on the teacher’s desk. He wore a simple dress shirt rolled at the sleeves, a skinny tie, and jeans. Prof. Michaels was young and attractive with his mussed hair, sky blue eyes and dimpled smile, and his predominantly female class seemed to perk up immediately at his arrival.
Hayleigh would’ve enjoyed his easygoing, enlightening interpretation of Chaucer, but her nerves were too frayed to process any part of his lecture. For the remainder of the hour she kept scanning the room for any sign of K.M., trying to ignore the thousand paranoid voices in her head all the while.
Students rose from their seats before she knew it, and she was left scrambling for her books to leave. A whole afternoon wasted chasing shadows. The first tears of frustration began to sting her eyes, but she quickly blinked them away. As soon as the first tear fell, she would surely break down. Not here. Not in public.
“Excuse me! Miss!”
Prof. Michaels was waving at her direction. At least a dozen other girls in the room looked at each other, wondering if they were the ones being called.
Prof. Michaels sprinted past rows of seats, gently wading through disappointed-looking girls. Hayleigh was halfway through the door when he caught up with her.
“Hey, where’s the fire?” he asked with a laugh as she paused at him in surprise. “I’m sorry, I don’t think I’ve ever seen you in my class before.”
“I’m not.” She weakly smiled. “I was just sitting in. I hoped you wouldn’t mind.”
“Not at all.” He raised his hands. “So what brings you to my class, Miss…?”
“Sullivan. Hayleigh,” she supplied with a sigh. “I know this might seem strange, but do you know What hath night to do with sleep means?”
His eyebrows went up. “As a matter of fact I do. It’s a passage from John Milton’s Paradise Lost. Why?”
Her heart skipped a beat. The book with the camera. Yet it still didn’t mean anything.
“Right. Of course.” She swallowed her unease. “I just stumbled upon the quote somewhere. I figured a Literature professor would know about it.”
His sky-blue eyes seemed bright with amusement, lingering on her face a little too long for comfort. “Well, feel free to approach me any time if you happen to have more questions about that book. Paradise Lost happens to be one of my favorites.”
Hayleigh slowly nodded. “Sure. Thanks, Prof. Michaels.”
“Call me Keiran.” He extended a hand. “Everybody else does.”
K.M.. Keiran Michaels.
She accepted the gesture, hoping her rising pulse wouldn’t be apparent in the handshake.
“Drop by my class again sometime, Hayleigh,” he said, releasing her with a smile. “It would be nice to see you again.”
She barely managed another nod before quickly leaving the classroom.