Thursday, April 16, 2015

Between the Pages: Chapter 2

The next day starts off not so great.

When I get to work there is an angry note on my computer monitor that reads: "Text. TODAY." It's not signed, but I know it's from Barry, my boss. There's probably a vicious email in my inbox too. You know, just in case the sticky note isn't enough. I check my email and sure enough, there it is.

Aside from the sticky note and a semi-catastrophic coffee spill, the rest of my day goes well. I finally get text written for the water reclamation and wilderness exhibits and send that off to the media department. They'll spruce it up, make it look pretty, and make it fit on a poster so that it's more appealing to visitors. How are they going to make water reclamation interesting? No clue.

By the time that 3:00 rolls around, I'm relieved to be heading to the reading room. I've got some research to finish for another exhibit I'm curating titled “1616, 1916, 2016”. It’s only a pop-up exhibit, so it won’t last for more than a day, but I think it’s going to be pretty neat. Basically, I’m picking a few of the more interesting rare books in our collections from the years 1616, 1916, and 2016 and displaying them. The only problem is all of the cool books I want to use—like the Italian anatomy textbook bound in human skin!—are not from the correct years.

Maybe I should reconsider which years to use…That's what's on my brain as I walk into the reading room. Thoughts of books bound in human skin are quickly pushed from my head though, as I realize the reading room is covered up. It's crazy crowded. Seriously, I've worked at the University Archives for five years now and I can't remember a summer day this busy in a while. I groan inwardly.

Poor Sharon looks haggard. Her expression is pretty much a visual version of my inward groan, and it makes me nervous for my shift. She looks too relieved to be leaving.

"It's been insanely busy," she confirms in a whisper. Quickly she runs through a list of who is who and where their on-hold materials are on the shelf. There's only eight patrons in the room, I realize as she explains, it's just that they all have a shit ton of materials. I'm feeling much more relaxed about things as she logs out of the computer and gathers her things, until she adds, "Oh, and vault staff is down three people today. So, it's just John and Rachel."


I know that there's a look of pure terror on my face. With this many people simultaneously requesting a large number of items and only two people working to retrieve those instead of five, our usual fifteen-minute turnaround time is going to skyrocket. Which in turn, makes the researchers pissy. And who are they pissy at? Whoever is behind the desk. Sharon gives me a sympathetic look as she leaves.

Okay. Game face on. I'm ready for this. Kind of. Sort of. Not really. I hate (even the possibility of) confrontations.

The first twenty minutes goes by quickly and smoothly. One old lady huffs a little bit when I explain to her—for the third time, by the way—that she can't have her coffee cup in the reading room, much less on the same table as a map of France from 1789. As she stomps out of the room to put her coffee in the researcher lockers, I hear a small snicker to my left.

Looking up, I'm fully prepared to shoot the offender a look of pure venom. Having to chase off little old ladies is not funny! But then I realize that the offender is none other than Max, the lone researcher from yesterday.

Today he's traded in a window seat for one closer to the circulation desk. Maybe because it's crowded in here? I personally hate having to weave in between the tables with oversized maps hanging off them; I imagine the obstacle course's difficulty would be increased tenfold in a wheelchair. Whatever the reason, I'm not complaining that he's closer today. It gives me a perfect vantage point for oggling (almost) unashamedly at him. He has a strong jawline that is only slightly hidden by a faint beard. Usually I'm not into the long haired, bearded, hipsterey types, but there is something about Max that makes my heart beat faster. His hair is a rich chestnut brown and his skin tanned, hinting that maybe he spends a fair amount of time outside. That's hard for me to believe--especially if he's the stuffy academic I think he is. Today he's sporting a baby blue Oxford shirt and I can see a tweed jacket hanging off the back of his wheelchair.

I roll my eyes at him good naturedly as if to say, "Old ladies are the worst, am I right?"

His broad shoulders shake with a small chuckle and he flashes me a grin that makes my stomach flip before looking back down at the manuscripts in front of him.

Just as I'm debating the ethics of creeping on Max via the internet and his research account information with us (which is actually crazy AND creepy seeing as how we've only had the one, very professional conversation and the one very unprofessional snicker exchange), the door to the reading room opens and John pushes a huge cart carrying a thick stack of oversized folders inside. He stops by my desk so that I can check them into the patron that requested them and then deposits the materials at the desk of a Mr. Bob Heading, who looks incredibly unhappy.

"You the only one working down there, son?" Mr. Heading asks in a loud and thick Cajun accent. The fact that he called John "son" would have made me laugh since John looks to be at least twenty years his senior, but something about the look of contempt on his face makes me restrain. "Because it sure did take long enough for this to get here to me."

John nods his head understandingly. "We're down a few people today so it's just me another worker."

"Whether there's one of ya or five, I think ya ought to do better than taking thirty minutes to bring these here materials to me," Mr. Heading grumbles.

John flashes me a "What can you do?" look and shrugs. Mr. Heading wanders back over to his desk and starts to examine the large stack of oversized documents.

I do a quick check on the computer. Bob Heading is an independent researcher from Southern Louisiana -- and holy Lord! -- he's called up the entire Johnson Confederate States of America collection. The Johnson Collection is a huge collection we're acquired about thirty years ago that's made up of like two hundred different boxes of old Confederate documents and probably twice that many maps and newspaper clippings. The thing is a behemoth, and Mr. Heading has requested all of it be brought up.

Already I know that this is going to be a problem. Reading room policies only allow patrons to have five items in the room at a time. As I watch Mr. Heading look through the five maps he has in less than five minutes, something tells me that he's not going to like the five item rule. Or the fact that he's going to have to wait twenty more minutes for another five to be brought up.

We manage to get through the whole routine twice before he says something. But by the time 4:00 rolls around, it seems like he's starting to lose his patience. He's up pacing around the room, huffing and puffing loudly. I send his request through at 4:01 and text John that it's urgent. By some miracle, the door opens fifteen minutes later, rather than the thirty I'd planned on, and at 4:16 John walks through with Mr. Heading's items. He winks at me as he sets them down.

Grinning broadly at the quick turnaround time, I alert Mr. Heading to their arrival. "The next items in your queue are ready."

But instead of matching my enthusiasm for our (understaffed) vault staff's quick retrieval time, he scowls. "I've been waiting here fifty minutes."

I give him an incredulous look. "You've been waiting fifteen, Mr. Heading."

"FIFTY MINUTES," he repeats, this time louder. It makes the other patrons look up. Out of the corner of my eye I see Max watching the man with a curious expression. "I've been waiting fifty minutes for these, and it's gonna take me less than five to go through 'em. Then I got to wait another fifty minutes to have more brought up? That's bull--"

"--Sir, please," I interject. "Keep your voice down."

"Why? I'm sure all these here people are just sitting here, waiting on their stuff too."

"Mr. Heading, I'm sorry you're displeased with the retrieval time, but we actually do have a very quick one for a facility--"

"Well I don't think that you do, missy," He tries to talk over me. "I think there's a problem--"

"--of our size and--"

"--and that problem is YOU."

My jaw drops.

Mr. Heading is standing in front of my desk now, leaning over it. The look on his red face is one of utter contempt. On the one hand, he's right: it is annoying to have to wait for thirty minutes for something that you'll finish in five...but on the other hand, that also sounds like a personal problem too. Plus, we have at least three signs--all in clear view--that inform patrons of the wait time, which we usually over estimate as being thirty minutes.

I don't like confrontations. I don't like being yelled at. I don't like that he's disturbing other patrons with his claims of waiting almost an hour when I have proof of it being fifteen minutes. But what really gets me, what really grinds my gears, is that this man insinuates I don't know how to do my job. The job I've worked at for over five years and that (although I bitch about sometimes) I love.

I don't hesitate for another second. "Sir, I'm going to have to call security."

Mr. Heading snorts. "You don't have to call security."

With that last statement, he walks out. But not before he snatches his laptop off of the table. Then, he chances one last look at me, and with a wicked gleam in his eye, shoves the stack of oversized folders he'd been looking at off the table and onto the floor. He practically runs out while the old documents flutter onto the floor, looking just as fragile and sad and defeated.

I let out a wounded sounding yelp at the state of things and immediately rush over to the documents. "I am so sorry for that," I apologize to the remaining eight patrons in the room. I squat down and start to carefully pick up the documents, feeling my face redden. Whether it's from embarrassment or anger at Mr. Heading, I'm not sure. In five years I've never had a day at work as bad (or exciting) as this one.

"These are all out of order," I mumble despondently. The documents aren't tagged or marked and I'm not sure which items go in which folders. As I continue to pick them up and try to make some sense of the order, I mutter some more really obscene, really not nice stuff about Mr. Heading under my breath. I'm having a huge glass of red wine when I get home tonight. And take-away. Maybe from that new Italian place that just opened downtown. Hmn...I wonder if they deliver?

I'm concentrating much more on my dinner plans than I am to what I'm doing. Which is probably why I don't notice Max until he's literally right in front of me. He doesn't say anything--respecting the reading room rules, unlike some people!--but he starts to help me collect the massive amount of spilled documents. Bracing himself with one hand on one of the wheels, he bends over at the waist and starts to pick up some of the smaller documents and put them on the table. The gesture is so kind that I barely cringe when he picks them up haphazardly and I don't mention the fact that should really be handling each document with two hands.

"Thank you," I whisper when we're finished.

Max smiles. "Sorry you had to deal with that guy."

I shrug. "It happens."

At this point I stand up and start walking back towards my desk. The clock on the wall says it's 4:45 and I'm shocked to see a stack of materials on my desk waiting to be checked back in. Everyone else is gone, except for me and Max and one other man who is a regular during the summer (genealogist). Great. At the rate that my day seems to be going, someone probably walked off with a rare book or something.

When I'm done checking everything back in, and after I've said a prayer that nothing is missing, I clear my throat. Both Max and the genealogist, look up. Max smiles bashfully, and it's adorable. "Is it time already?" he asks.

"It's time," I tell them both a little apologetically. I doubt anybody working in the reading room today achieved anything, thanks to all the commotion, and I feel party responsible. "I'm sorry again for today."

The genealogist deposits his materials on my desk and leaves without a word. Max, on the other hand, sticks around. He wheels up to my desk with his box on his lap, but he doesn’t hand it over. He’s holding it in a protective grasp. I wonder if he loves books and antiquities as much as I do.

He's clad in his tweed coat now--though why, I don't know, it's literally ninety-three degrees outside today--and he looks quite dapper.

"You know," he begins, grinning mischievously, "I would have thrown a fit if you had insisted I turn these in promptly at 5:00.”

I smile gratefully at his joke even though the memory of the afternoon still stings.

"Hey, don’t beat yourself up. Like you said: it happens,” he tells me as he finally relinquishes his hold on his materials. The sentiment surprises me. A second later Max begins to laugh and is talking to me again. “I have a friend who works at an archive in Mississippi and she's constantly butting heads with this researcher who comes in once a week demanding to see a certain set of 'macrofilm.'"

I smile as I realize a few things all at once:

#1: Max, a (handsome) stranger, seems to be making an actual effort to cheer me up.
#2: Max, a (handsome) stranger, the likes of which we never see in the reading room, is making an effort to continue this conversation.
# 3: Max, a (handsome) stranger, might be flirting with me.

But really, I'm an idiot when it comes to flirting. Maybe he's just being nice. Yeah, he’s definitely just being nice, because there is no way a guy like that is single--even with the wheelchair.

Even so, I play along. After all, a little fun never hurt anyone, right? "That's better than having someone ask for their 'mini fish.'"

Max tilts his head in confusion. "Mini fish?"

I sigh heavily. "She was a tenured professor and she meant microfiche."

Max laughs. It's a deep, hearty, and genuine sound. I grin too and mentally pat myself on the back as he wheels back to his table to gather the rest of his stuff.


  1. So sweet! Thank you so much!

  2. As a historian who frequents archives, I love this story! I feel as if I am actually there researching! Looking forward to next week's chapter.

  3. Thanks for the promising chapter. With some luck, they will go and have a coffee together in the next chapter, or do I have to be more patient? They both seem very nice

  4. Aw that was adorbz! Thanks so much for the chapter! Loving Max so far :)

  5. Wonderful chapter.
    Great characters!

  6. I have to echo anon's comment above! I hope they're going on a date in the next chapter. Loooove this!

  7. Cute. Please update soon.

  8. Enticing and sweet. I see a future here!

  9. Why do I want to go to the library now and look around for a handsome stranger in a wheelchair instead of books? Great chapter, great writing