Imogen Parker preferred to call herself curious.
She was a learner. An observer. A student of human nature and human action. In short, she would tell you, she paid attention. There wasn’t much more to it than that.
She first heard the term “Nosy Parker” when she was five years old and, perhaps fittingly, had been eavesdropping on her teacher discussing her latest misadventures with the school principal.
It was the same story almost every week: Imogen asked too many questions, she turned up in places she shouldn’t be, and—worst of all, in Imogen’s opinion—squirmy, squinty six-year-old Morris kept ratting her out to Mr. Reed. Imogen was not a fan of Morris. The other kids in her class got along with her pretty well, but Morris had it out for her. Before Imogen showed up, he’d been the fastest reader in class. He didn’t like being shown up by a five-year-old girl. That was fair, she supposed.
After all, she didn’t like Morris.
So, four weeks after she had joined the school, Imogen found herself escorted to the principal’s office instead of gym class. She should have been sitting on the wooden bench in the short hallway between the main hall and the office, swinging her feet back and forth and waiting for judgment under the watchful eye of the principal’s secretary. But the secretary was turned away from Imogen and talking quietly into the phone, so instead Imogen was crouched beside the door to the principal’s office. It wasn’t open, but the walls weren’t very thick, either. She pressed her ear to the large crack at the bottom of the door, and smiled as Principal Song demanded Mr. Reed explain what this “new, courteous student” had done to be brought to her office.
“Yes, yes, she’s very well read, but she asks so many questions. More than the usual five-year-old! She’s just—she’s just—she’s such a nosy—”
“If you’re going to start labeling that poor child as a nosy Parker at her age—”
“Enough! Need I remind you that she has only been in our school for a month?”
The secretary let out a muffled squeak of laughter, sending Imogen catapulting back onto the bench, curls bouncing around her head. By the time the secretary turned back from the window, now giggling into the phone, Imogen was back in place, feet swinging ever so slightly as she waited.
She asked Trick about it on the bus ride home. Patrick Ward was a year older and two heads taller than she was, with a shock of dark red hair and a thousand freckles across his face and arms. He was also her next door neighbor and, therefore, her closest friend in this new town.
“What’s a nosy Parker?” she, slipping into the seat next to him.
Patrick frowned at her, his blue-green eyes meeting her dark brown ones. “A what?”
“A nosy Parker,” she said.
He shrugged. “You’re a Parker,” he said. “And nosy just means you ask a lot of questions because you want to know a lot of things.”
Imogen wasn’t sure this was entirely correct, so she decided to ask her parents about it when she got home. When the bus pulled up to their stop—the last on the route—Imogen dashed off the bus, waved goodbye to Patrick, and ran inside.
Her dad was sitting in the living room, a pile of laundry half folded beside him. He looked up from folding one of Imogen’s favorite shirts—bright orange with a yellow sun on it—and smiled at her.
“Hi, sweets,” he said, putting the shirt down and holding his arms out to her. “How was school?”
She gave him a big hug, his forehead pressing into her pile of curls. “Good,” she said. “Daddy, what’s a nosy Parker?”
He pulled her away from his chest, frowning. “Who called you that?”
“No one,” she said quickly. Which was true. Technically. “I just heard someone say it.”
Mr. Parker tilted his head to the side. “It’s a not very nice word for someone who wants to know everything,” he said at last. “It’s very rude, so if anyone does call you that, let me know.”
Imogen nodded solemnly. “Can I have a snack now?” she asked.
He father leaned in a kissed her on the cheek. “Of course. Apples or carrots today, do you think?”
“Grapes,” she said solemnly, and he laughed.
“Always finding a third option,” he said. “That’s my girl.” He stood up and lifted her into his arms. “Let’s get some grapes, then.”
Imogen learned fairly quickly how to avoid these trips to the principal’s office. Not that she ever minded them—Miss Song was, as she had discovered by eavesdropping on that first trip, quite fond of her. It probably didn’t hurt that Morris stopped tattling whenever she asked more than one question of someone. But as Imogen grew up, she discovered there were better ways to learn things than to badger people with constant questions. Kinder ways, too. And sometimes full-speed, head-on interrogation didn’t yield the results she wanted, especially as she stepped into the school paper during high school.
Sometimes, she learned, silence brought back the loudest answers.
By the time she was nineteen, Imogen had curiosity down to an art form. She still worked for the school paper—the college paper now—and, despite what she had learned, she still wanted to ask too many questions.
Which was why, at 6 AM on a Saturday morning in the middle of March, she was creeping down a deserted hall in an academic building that should have been locked. Since she worked for the school paper housed on the fifth floor, though, the door had clicked open when she swiped her student ID across the electronic lock.
And, since she needed to stop by the paper’s office anyway—she had accidentally-on-purpose left her favorite scarf on her chair—she was in the clear on the alibi front. Imogen tucked a loose curl back under the green ribbon she had used to keep their masses from dropping into her eyes today and grinned as she walked towards the main staircase. She loved investigating. This was going to be fun.
She took the stairs quickly, nearly bouncing in her excitement as she neared the fourth floor. Wainsworth Hall was a beautiful building, all brick on the outside and bright white molding and beautiful portraits within. It housed a scattered handful of liberal arts departments—English, Linguistics, and Sociology, to name a few—but what interested Imogen today was the floor immediately beneath The Philadelphian.
What interested Imogen today was the Criminology Department.
She reached the fourth floor and stopped for a second to get her bearings. She seldom stopped here–English was on the third floor, and usually she only climbed this far in order to go up another flight of stairs. A pair of glass doors stood there, the peeling bronze word ANTHROPOLOGY across them catching the light from the windows. Imogen knew little about this department other than an introductory course she had taken and what Trick had told her about a new course called Anthropology of Social Justice being offered the following year. She turned to her left, where the hall was similarly marked by a set of glass doors. These ones, though, read CRIMINOLOGY in freshly printed black letters. She approached them slowly.
An electronic pad stood to her left waiting for her to swipe an ID across it, but she was hesitant to use her own this time. What she was doing wasn’t technically illegal—the paper ensured she has full access to the building at all times—but it was one thing to use an ID to sneak into the building she visited frequently, and quite another to use it on a department she had no business visiting except during office hours.
Of course, if Professor Joyce was ever actually at his office hours, she wouldn’t be here in the first place. But what was a highly inquisitive girl supposed to do after such a strange semester? The general pallor of the professor was nothing of note, and even the occasional twitchiness and demonstrated paranoia was not unheard of among her university’s professors. But to suddenly start video calling in for lectures because he had been called back to Ireland? This action in itself raised many questions—why hadn’t he just arranged for a substitute or one of the TAs to cover the class?—but to disappear entirely without leaving notice? That raised even more red flags. Crim 101 may only be fulfilling one of her graduation requirements, but Professor Joyce’s odd behavior was quickly sending it to the top of her priority list. She wanted to do well in this class, sure, but… well, she was Imogen Parker.
More than anything else, she was curious.
Imogen tugged on the door absently, expecting it to be locked, but it swung open so effortlessly it almost crashed into her forehead. She caught it and looked at the electronic pad. Sure enough, the plastic stripe across its side was flashing green and red, not just red. She frowned, suddenly concerned. For one thing, she was slacking. She should have noticed the keypad was flashing different colors.
For another, this meant she probably wasn’t as alone as she had thought.
She slipped through the doors and walked slowly, on the outer edges of her feet so as to make less noise. There was a large window at the end of the hall, and a gnarled radiator sputtered and hissed beneath it, masking the few noises she did make as she walked. Wainsworth Hall was essentially a large, flattened C, so the hall she was on took a sharp right turn at the window with the radiator. She turned the corner slowly, one hand on her phone.
Imogen let out a startled squeak when she saw that she was, in fact, not alone after all. A girl was crouched in front of Professor Joyce’s office. Her face was covered by a curtain of sleek black hair, and her clothing—or, at least, what Imogen could see of the black ensemble—was impeccable. At the sound of Imogen’s squeak, she leaped gracefully to her feet. One hand was held up warily, an odd metallic tool still clutched in it. The other was out of sight in the girl’s coat pocket. In her heels, she had to be at least eight inches taller than Imogen. She moved with the grace of a dancer, though, and her face was surprisingly… well, unsurprised. As she examined Imogen, one perfectly formed eyebrow quirked up.
“This is… unexpected,” she said, and Imogen realized why the girl seemed so familiar. Faces she wasn’t so good with, but she had a knack for remembering voices.
“Rather awkward,” Imogen agreed. “It’s Annabel, right? I think we had European Folklore with Kapelson last semester.”
The girl bowed her head slightly in acknowledgement. “Annabel Lee, “ she said. “Annabel Lee Winthrop, actually, but Annabel Lee will do.” She flashed Imogen a quick smile. “And you’re Imogen Parker.”
Imogen nodded. For a moment, the only sound in the dimly lit hall was the sputtering of the radiators.
“Well,” Imogen said at last, rocking on her heels a bit.
“Well,” Annabel Lee echoed, still holding the metal tool aloft.
Imogen nodded at the door behind them. “You in Crim 101 this semester as well?”
Imogen took a few more steps forward until she was standing beside Annabel Lee, staring straight at Professor Joyce’s office. She glanced up at Annabel Lee, considering the situation. Annabel Lee looked down at her and raised her other eyebrow.
Imogen raised an eyebrow of her own. “I won’t tell if you won’t?”
Annabel Lee nodded. “Allow me,” she said, and resumed picking the lock.
Imogen took a step back to give Annabel Lee some more space. “You know, I’d been planning to just charm the TA or flirt with Joyce’s assistant if I couldn’t get in today, but this is much more expedient.”
“His assistant is on vacation in the Caribbean,” Annabel Lee said, “and the TA has a girlfriend.” She glanced up at Imogen. “Soon to be fiancée, actually, if I’m correct. Which—” she flicked her wrist once more and rose to her feet as the door opened “—I am.”
Imogen followed her inside the office and flipped on the light. “I knew there was a reason I liked you,” she said, walking over to the bookcase as Annabel Lee walked over to the desk. “Other than the fact that you actually did your work in group projects, I mean.”
Annabel Lee tilted her head, her silence questioning.
“Kindred spirit,” Imogen said with a nod, sure she was correct. Annabel Lee had clearly done her research before arriving on the fourth floor of Wainsworth Hall at 6:15 AM on a Saturday morning. “Compelled by curiosity.”
Annabel Lee looked at the pile of papers in her hand, then back at Imogen. Her mouth twitched. “Are you calling me a nosy Parker?”
For once, the term sounded like a badge of honor instead of a derogatory remark.
Imogen laughed. “I suppose I am.”