I want to say it right up front: I didn't earn the key. I wouldn't have even been in the running for it. Earning the key required some major prank, like filling the school trophy case with liquid red Jell-O, or rewiring the golf carts to only go backwards when the principal had a broken leg and needed them to get around the campus. But Ethan, my older brother, was cool enough that the kid who'd had the key the year before, just gave it to him. He didn't have to do anything-he was that cool. Later, when he told me what it was, and I asked if I could have it, he just gave it to me. Like it was no big deal. But it was a big deal, a very big deal. It was one of the myths of Caramoor, the private boys' school we went to. It was a master key that could open any door on campus, and none of the adults who worked there knew that it existed. With the key, you could go anywhere, anytime, just as long as you didn't get caught. I don't know if Ethan ever used the key, or even when he got it. But it was mine now, and I was the one who could go anywhere.
I didn't use it till after he left. One morning in November, two and a half months ago, Dad and I came downstairs to find a sticky note on the kitchen table with one word written on it: "Later." No warning, no explanation, no nothing. Suddenly I wasn't Ethan Simon's little brother any longer, I was a 16-year-old kid with a dead mother, an absent brother, and a hard-ass dad who barely communicated with me. I just sleepwalked through the days. Then when I realized Dad was going to have to go out of town for practically the first two weeks of February, I decided that it would be a perfect time to try out the key. I'd find someplace on campus to hole up, and spend as much of the nights as I could exploring. I'd check in at home every so often, so Dad wouldn't get too suspicious, but mostly, I'd be on my own, on a deserted campus, with a key that could take me anywhere.
I did some exploring, and set up my center of operations in the attic of Ainsley House, the administration building. I took over a backpack with provisions and a sleeping bag. I made lists of the doors I wanted to unlock, and planned what I was going to do. By the time Dad left and I prepared to spend my first night on campus, I knew I was going to have some surprises. After all, Ainsley House was supposed to be haunted by a little girl named Ruby, who could make an appearance when I least expected it. But it never occurred to me that instead of a ghost, I'd find a really hot girl in the Arts Studio, listening to a blaring radio, with clay all over her hands, acting like she belonged there more than I did. Who was she, and what was she doing there at almost midnight? There were no girls allowed on campus. But more important, since she definitely wasn't a ghost, would she tell anyone about me? What would happen to all my plans? I had the key, but could I still use it?
This booktalk is written by university professor, librarian and booktalking expert Joni Richards Bodart.